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“Why not take it back to the house with you?” I asked her.

“I can’t keep these with me,” Ms. Parsons told me, indicating the cracked leatherette picture album she clutched in her hands. This album was one of five or six others in a file storage box opened between us. Nearby, Ms. Parson’s son, Ralph, was sorting quietly through some of the other boxes of things that they had stored in our warehouse space. Ralph was hoping to find a cellphone that they thought might still have some minutes on it. We’re thankful that a local business lends us a space in one of their warehouses to store things like donated furniture and appliances until we can find a neighbor who can use them. But, in the case of Ms. Parsons and Ralph, the warehouse was a safe place to keep their possessions when they were ejected from where they had been staying. As long-time regulars around Grace and Main, we were able to find them a place to stay in one of our hospitality rooms quickly, but they wanted to store many of their things in the warehouse to give themselves a little extra space in the hospitality room.

There we stood, surrounded by so many things held precious by Ms. Parsons—things like picture albums, quilts made by family long passed, and cherished childhood art projects—as Ms. Parsons lovingly told me story after story about the people in the sometimes-faded pictures. She showed me some of Ralph’s baby pictures, one in particular included the hands and knees of Ralph’s father, whose face and name remain a mystery to me. Ralph, at least ten years my senior, looked up from his search for a moment to blush and shake his head good-naturedly as his mom told me about the cute things he did as a toddler; the picture had faded with age, but the memory was as crisp as it ever was as Ms. Parsons, smiling, impersonated Ralph’s childish speech.

She showed me a picture of a black and white cat named Socks, of whom she had only a few hazy memories. She showed me pictures of first homes and first cars, both the ones bought before and after everything changed. Ms. Parsons showed me a picture of her father and talked for a moment about the way he’d enter the house after work and what his favorite meal was. Ms. Parsons told me all about her mother with an appreciation honed over decades of missing her. “She was a good Christian lady, I know where she is,” Ms. Parsons insisted with the same gravity as any preacher’s prayer: “acknowledge your servant, a sheep of your own fold.”

Finally sensing that it would be okay to ask, I continued my earlier question: “Why can’t you keep these with you?”

“I can’t keep these with me, “she insisted with grace and gentleness, “because they’re too precious.”
As she closed the album and placed it back in the box with a careful grace reserved for the priceless, I thought I was starting to understand what Ms. Parsons meant. Their preciousness made them vulnerable and vulnerable things often have only one fate in the lives of those who struggle with homelessness, hunger, poverty, and/or addiction: loss. These memories of hers were safe in this place she could not stay, entrusted to our care with a spirit of faithful love. “Well, thanks…” I stammered under the weight of what Ms. Parsons was saying, “…thanks for trusting us with your precious things.”

Ms. Parsons was smiling in response to my clumsy gratitude when Ralph popped up from the middle of the boxes to say he was pretty sure the phone wasn’t here. He thought maybe it was in the pocket of one of their winter coats back at the house. As we turned off the lights and made our way back to the car, I said, “You know, if you ever want to come back and look through the picture albums, we can do that. Plus, I really want to see what that quilt looks like some time.”

“Oh, it’s precious, too,” Ms. Parsons said, in what was likely an understatement, before adding, “I’d like that.”

For so many of those with whom we’re building our lives, the preciousness of a thing is such a tremendous liability. When you’re living life with so little margin of error, one stroke of ill fortune—a missed paycheck, a too-high utility bill, an unexpected medical expense, getting laid off—threatens to break and ruin all that you hold dear and precious. The value of a thing becomes a vulnerability when the world seems to have nothing but hard edges. When there is so little buffer between you and the world, you must often choose between yourself and what you call precious. This is the hard bargain that is ever-present in the lives of so many of our dearest friends. This is the hard bargain that no one chooses, but many must make.

Yet through it all, we must remember something: it’s the same hard bargain into which Jesus entered. When forced to choose between his own life and what was precious to him, Jesus chose what was precious—people like me and you. With faith so fragile it should be wrapped in bubble wrap, we are called to trust that God doesn’t call the precious vulnerable, but rather calls the vulnerable precious and calls us to go and do likewise.

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This month’s newsletter is written by Jessica Hearne, a Grace and Main leader and founding member, Jessica is supported in her work in our community by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where she is “Field Personnel.” You can read more about her work and find ways to support her directly here.


“The garden crew is back together again.” I look up from where I’ve been scrubbing a tablecloth and see what Sal is talking about. We’ve just finished our annual Grace and Main community Christmas dinner in the fellowship hall of one of our partner churches. There were ninety-six chairs set up when we arrived, and earlier this evening nearly every chair was taken. Most folks have already headed home, with to-go plates in hand full of delicious pork barbecue, smoked and donated for the third year in a row by a police officer friend who works in some of our neighborhoods. Some of our more outgoing friends are still sitting around tables, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company on this cold December evening, the longest night of the year.

Since people finished eating, I haven’t been paying much attention to what was happening around me. Instead, I have been focusing on the work that is still ahead: returning this fellowship hall to the state it was in when I arrived this afternoon. One of the biggest challenges is these tablecloths. They are the disposable kind that you can get in the party supply section at Target or Walmart, but they had been set out by the church housekeeper in preparation for the Christmas Eve fellowship that was coming up in just a few days. We were invited to use them, and they add a nice, homey touch to our dinner, but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult they would be to clean. When Sal spoke, I was carefully holding one side of a tablecloth while gently wiping the food crumbs off with a damp towel onto the floor. I’ll have to see if I can get someone to sweep, I thought.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to ask. I looked up from the tablecloth to see Sal and Jamal already with brooms in hand. They were working their way through the tables behind me, sweeping up my mess and what was left from folks who had been eating. I turned around, and there I saw Robert and Jonny moving some tables back to where we found them before dinner. Most of the dishes had been taken to the kitchen by our guests as they finished eating (we like to use real dishes whenever we can as a way of showing people that they are valuable to us), but Tim was there collecting the few dishes that were left by folks with mobility troubles or kids in tow. Finally, I looked into the kitchen, and there was George stacking dishes on trays and running them through the industrial dishwasher.

The garden crew is back together again. Sal was right. The people that were helping with the clean-up after one of our biggest meals of the year were the same people that I had been meeting every Thursday since the beginning of the summer to work on our Urban Farm on the north side of town. Some had started coming because they enjoy working outside, others to take advantage of the produce that we were growing. Many of them had claimed their own garden beds to cultivate, growing some food to take home and giving more than half of it away to their friends and neighbors. We had been meeting, working, laughing, and learning together for half of the year, finishing every workday with a trip to the grocery store so that folks could pick up a few extra things to go with their produce. As the season came to a close, we were already making plans for next year. Every time I see Stella now, she tells me about how she can’t wait to get back into the garden. Each week Tim, our resident amateur photographer, posts a new set of garden pictures to his Facebook page, with captions that demonstrate his longing to be back outside. And George and Sal remind me constantly to call them whenever we start having our planning meetings. These folks started as volunteers, but have grown, over the summer and fall, into a group of planners, organizers, and leaders.

Their leadership is being demonstrated in the aftermath of this dinner. I didn’t ask Sal and Jamal to sweep, but they took the initiative to help. George jumped at the chance to help with the dishwasher, getting there even faster than our regular dishwashers. Tim is collecting dishes in between his picture taking, handling both roles with joy. The camaraderie that started in the garden is still cultivating beloved community in the cold of winter, when the ground is nearly frozen and the sun is mostly hidden away. I look at Sal and say, “Yeah, I guess the garden crew is back together, huh.”

“I can’t wait to get back to the garden,” he replied with a smile.

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Tasha has been sick off and on for quite some time. Many days, Tasha can be found on her front porch carefully considering the distinction between having trouble breathing and urgently struggling to breathe. Even with oxygen tanks, some days are too difficult and she ends up going to the emergency room if she can get a ride, or calling an ambulance if she can’t. Some nights, Tasha wakes up gasping for air, no longer wondering if it’s “bad enough” to go the hospital yet and simply rushing there by any means necessary. It’s so hard to think about long term solutions, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

After prayers one Sunday, a group of us went to visit Tasha in the hospital. It had been a hard weekend for her, but Tasha’s first words when we showed up were surprisingly apologetic: “I’m so sorry I couldn’t come tonight,” she said, “I really wanted to be there.” We assured her that it was no problem and that we completely understood, even as we took her hands in ours. Tasha’s husband, Carl, admitted sheepishly that he had slept through the service after a couple of long days and nights in the hospital. We patted him on the back and told him he had nothing to worry about. After all, this was the man who once walked over 140 miles one week to be with his sick wife when he couldn’t find a ride the hospital she was in. It’s so hard to make it to prayers, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

As a group, we settled into what we do best: talking, mostly about little things but occasionally about big things too. We talked about the hospital food until Tasha felt like talking about her health or something else that was more pressing, but slower to spring from her lips. It’s strange how an aimless conversation about the relative qualities of cornbread can prime the ears for listening and the mouth for talking about seemingly relentless illness. Tasha offered the dessert from her dinner tray, a single piece of white-frosted, red velvet cake, to Roland, our community’s “Minister of Prayer.” Roland had insisted on coming to the hospital, even though last time we went there it had been to visit him when he was recovering from a surgical procedure. As Roland ate the cake with companionable gratitude, Tasha waded into her own fears about the future. It’s so hard to start talking about things that really matter, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

She promised, again, that she was going to quit smoking. She acknowledged freely that years of cigarettes were likely a part of her failing health, even as she admitted that she had tried before and failed to quit. “But we can do it this time,” Carl insisted. Carl, who is no stranger to the bonds of addiction and the freedom of recovery, offered a renewed hope that some might call naïve, but we’ve learned to call loving. It’s so hard to think about recovery, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

“Yes,” Tasha offered with a touch of resignation at the edges of her voice, “we can.” She continued, “I really want to, but it’s so hard!” We nodded our agreement and held space with Tasha so that she knew she could continue to talk and we’d continue to listen. Over the years, we’ve learned that so much of life in community—a life that is truly shared—is about patient silence as those to whom we’ve pledged our lives and time find the words to wrap around something larger than all of us, but not more powerful than the love of God in us. “This time I’ll do it,” Tasha promised us. We’ve found that community thrives in the fertile soil of trusted promises and generous forgiveness. But, it’s hard to make and keep promises, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

Tasha was tired, but she wanted us to pray with her before we left. Before Roland could begin his prayer though, Tasha wanted to go through her own prayer list and all those who rested heavy on her heart and mind. She wanted to pray for Todd, and Todd’s mother, of course. She wanted to pray for her cousin, who had just lost a daughter. She wanted to pray for the church she attended some Sunday mornings as they searched for a pastor. She wanted to pray for a friend on the street who had struggled with addiction and mental illness and was said to be sleeping outside again. She wanted to pray for a young family that had moved into the neighborhood a couple blocks north of her and especially for their daughter, who rumor said was very smart and a good student. She wanted to pray for my daughter, too. She wanted to pray and give thanks for her marriage and for Carl’s love for her. Finally, she wanted to pray for the strength to quit smoking.

With her community around her, Tasha found that she could still pray, even when it’s hard to breathe.

So, we prayed. Roland lifted all of Tasha’s requests and more in his prayer as we anointed our sister with oil blessed at prayer that afternoon. We marked Tasha’s forehead with the sign of a cross and the prayers of those who loved and missed her. With a few parting jokes, we left so that she and Carl could get some rest. “I didn’t miss prayer after all,” she called to us over the quiet hiss of the oxygen, “you just had to bring it to me.”

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This story was originally shared on March 1, 2015. It was also shared by Red Letter Christians in May of 2015.


We disabled our doorbell when our daughter was born, because with her birth we instantly became conservators of a precious resource: baby sleep. Since we live in a hospitality house where many gather, rest, and take shelter, not having a doorbell was a challenge at first, but we have all become fluent in the language of knocks. There are the loud, hard, pounding knocks that describe numb hands or agitation. There are the soft knocks on the storm door that whisper anxiety and timidity—perhaps a sister who’s not sure if what she’s heard about this place is true. There are the insistent, rapid knocks that seem to scream loss or desperation. There are the rhythmic knocks—“shave and a haircut” being the favorite by far—that promise a friendly conversation and maybe a cup of coffee on the porch.

Our household—both families and those staying in the hospitality room—fall easily into a game of guessing who might be at the door by the knock we hear. Some of our brothers and sisters have knocks as distinct as their personalities. I’ve learned another important thing by learning the language of knocks—something important about myself:

I don’t always want to answer the door.

As covenanted members of Grace and Main, we have committed ourselves—both individually and as an intentional community—to opening our homes to the folks God introduced into our lives. But, after a while, hospitality ends up meaning much more than spare bedrooms and open chairs at dinner tables. As we made our home and life in a place with the commitment to be open to who and what God brings us, we’ve found that hospitality also means opening our lives to others and their stories. We’ve had so many great stories that begin with a knock on a door—stories of lives changed and overflowing redemption and resurrection. We’ve also had our fair share of heartbreaking stories that begin with a knock. After a long day or right after the baby has gone down to bed, the stories of heartbreak are what feed my imagination when a knock announces a visitor.

In the practice of hospitality, we’ve learned that it can feel like a holy opportunity to prepare a hospitality room for another guest to join the house and, simultaneously, a frustrating imposition to have to answer the door yet again for another brother or sister while you’re trying to dust, make the bed, and clean up the baby’s toys. In the space of a breath, our quiet confidence and faith can turn to anxious doubt and “what ifs” when we hear a distinctive knock that promises one of our brothers or sisters who has relapsed or threatened someone we love.

Yes, we’ve learned to speak the language of knocks and found that we don’t always like what it has to say about us.

We’ve also discovered that it’s not just our sisters and brothers who wait for us on the porch with hopeful expectation in their hearts, but the Gospel waits for us there, as well. With each knock comes a summons to hear the good news that God is at work in this messy world and that sin is being undone by love—sometimes gloriously fast, and sometimes agonizingly slow. Each knock is an invitation to place our faith and trust in God and be born again. Each knock is a call to prayer, inviting us to pray to the God of the widow, orphan, stranger, and outcast. Each knock is an occasion once again to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. Each knock is a chance to welcome Jesus into our lives once again. With some knocks, we welcome Jesus into our home in the guise of a friend. With other knocks, we find Jesus waiting on our porch, looking like a stranger.

The folks waiting at our door certainly want us to answer their knock, especially when it’s frigid. We don’t always want to open the door, but we do it—not because we are “good people,” but because salvation is on the other side of our storm door, knocking and waiting.

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I don’t like to be late, but nearly eight years of running on “Grace and Main time” may have had some effect on my punctuality. So, when I pulled my car into the street parking near a certain apartment building, I was not only in a hurry, but also anxious about it. As was often the case during this season in the life of the neighborhood, I was met by several kids at my car door. No longer worried about tardiness, but newly worried about the flow of traffic through the neighborhood and whether or not the kids were watching it, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the stairs to answer their myriad questions. Their many different questions (What we were going to have for dinner? Did I bring my frisbee? When was the next big meal was?) gave way to one most pressing and important question: where was my daughter?

Satisfied for a moment by my answer that she was coming with her mom in a minute, the kids went back to playing while I helped set up for a community meal on the front lawn of the apartment complex we affectionately call “Big Blue.” When my daughter arrived, the kids were excited for her to join their games, but were reminded by her unsteady toddling that she was still learning how to walk. Leaving their game to the side, they eagerly took turns holding her tiny hand and walking slowly with her from one end of the lawn to the other. They showered her in praise for her faltering steps, rejoicing not in her speed at walking but in her willingness to try and get up after falling. In fact, they were so fascinated with her progress that they had to be reminded to eat over and over again. These children with whom I’ve shared numerous meals have found a variety of ways to love me, but none have been as dear to me as walking carefully with my daughter from one end of the lawn to the other.

Robert was at the meal that night, too. It was courageous for him since he had relapsed just a few days before the meal. He had hoped nobody would notice that he was using again, but he was too near and dear for us not to notice. You can’t help but notice somebody’s faltering steps when you’re holding their hand. As my daughter walked back and forth across the lawn, Robert found a corner of the porch to eat his burger by himself. I knew he didn’t want to talk about his relapse—he’d said as much just moments earlier—so I enjoyed my hot dog and potato chips a few feet away in silence. Not knowing what else to say and not wanting to force Robert into a conversation, I waited until I’d finished my meal to pat him on the back as I made my way to the compost and trash. “We love you, brother,” I insisted, “and we’re glad you’re here.” A few weeks later, Robert was ready to try again at sobriety. It didn’t stick that time, either. But, just last month, Robert celebrated two years clean and sober. We rejoiced not in his speed at recovery, but in his willingness to keep trying.

But it’s not just Robert and my daughter that need hands to hold. Living in community has meant a lot of things to me over the last several years, but perhaps the most surprising has been how uncomfortable it can be to be known so deeply and personally by so many. There are those parts of me that I’d like to hide away from those who love me so dearly, but community makes it hard to hide. My tendency to take things too personally and grumble to myself about others, my reflexive desire to try to make people like me, my desire to control others to ease my own anxiety, my habit of trying to “figure people out” instead of just sitting with them, my own selfish pride—all of these broken parts of me feel like jagged edges primed to hurt those I love the most. I’m pretty sure I could hide these things away if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve given ourselves to each other in the bonds of community, in shared life, work, and prayers. I’m going to stumble, I’m going to hurt others both intentionally and unintentionally, I’m going to want to quit some days, and I’m going to fail.

But, God has surrounded me with people who will hold my hand as I learn to walk across the lawn. They are so dedicated in their love of me that they’ll need to be reminded to eat. These good people—like Robert—rejoice over my faltering steps. When I sit in the grass and refuse to get back up because I’m tired of trying and failing, it’s people like Robert who will sit still with me in silence until I’m ready to try again. It probably won’t stick this time, either. But sometimes miracles happen, as Robert testifies by way of word and action.

There are so many ways for us to love God, but I think I know God’s favorite: holding the hands of God’s children and walking carefully with them. Love is so much more resplendent in our faltering steps.

The following is written about our brother, Bruce, who passed on September 8, 2017. We’ve written about Bruce before: hereherehere, and here. He has also written for our newsletter twice: here and here. We’ve already had a service to celebrate Bruce and offer some meager resolution to our community, but the following story is another frustratingly inadequate memorial to our brother, whom we miss dearly. 


_MG_3193.JPGIt was my distinct privilege to walk alongside Bruce for about six of his sixty-one years. He reminded me upon occasion that his years in community were his favorite years, even if some of our habits irritated him. Bruce was a punctual person deep down and it took him a long time to grow accustomed to our way of saying “we’ll get started at 6ish” or “let’s wait a few more minutes to see if Deborah shows up for prayers.” He coined a term for our way of approximate time and hospitable delays: “Grace and Main time.” But even if it had been a while since you told him you were coming, Bruce still had a smile for you when you pulled up to his place. He might be aggravated—community doesn’t mean never being frustrated with the people you love—but the bonds of love are so much stronger than momentary irritations. And Bruce had a heart full of love, hard won through sixty-one years of struggle mixed with celebration that all too often seemed mixed too strongly toward struggle.  Regardless of when you pulled up and whether you were operating by the clock or on “Grace and Main time,” Bruce was ready.

Bruce came to dinner the first time because we pestered him until he showed up. His friend, Robert, helped us out with the pestering until Bruce eventually told him, “If you’ll shut up about it, I’ll go once.” Of course, Bruce ended up going much more than once. A few months after he shared that first meal with us, Bruce told me: “that first time I came, I didn’t believe that yall loved me; but I could tell that you loved each other and it was nice to be near that.” Bruce had burned every bridge he’d ever had and the match he used to set the fire was alcohol. It was a fateful meal with a four-year-old (that we’ve written about before) that provided the impetus for Bruce to dare to hope that our love could include him. With grilled chicken on his fork and with gentle trust in the heart of his four-year-old friend, something changed for Bruce. He called the next day and said he wanted to get clean. We promised that we’d make sure he had food to eat, a place to stay, and work to do when he got out of rehab. He’d end up keeping that promise for good. He was a little scared, in the moment, but Bruce was ready.

Though he was trained as a carpenter and evidence to his skill abounds around our community, Bruce had an innate gift for hospitality and welcome. Third Chance Ministries hired him as our Associate Missionary to the Northside because of his deft combination of practiced skill and natural gift. Bruce worked alongside LindaJoann, and Robert in a little house on North Main Street for quite some time. They started a breakfast together that eventually welcomed 80+ people to share a meal on the porch, grass, and curb of that house. Bruce rebuilt a rotted-out tool shed, that once served as temporary shelter for him, into our first tool library. Bruce planted some of our first gardens that became the impetus for our Urban Farm. Dozens of people got clean and sober, citing Bruce’s influence and loving support. Bruce made countless urns of coffee and coolers of lemonade to share with anybody who might want it. When he moved into his own home, he stocked his candy bowl not with peppermints or butterscotch, but with candy bars, packs of gum, whole rolls of lifesavers, and whatever else struck his fancy on his most recent shopping trip. When somebody needed a place to talk, eat, or rest, Bruce provided it. When it came to hospitality, Bruce was ready.

Bruce was integral to our establishment of the Urban Farm and he was the founding leader behind our community’s Tool Library. Bruce was one of four people in our city who received a certificate in permaculture design and sustainable gardening practices. Because of Bruce, dozens of people got thousands of hours of work through the tool library and through the connections that Bruce forged working around town. There were some things that Bruce loved to do: working at the farm, repairing tools, building things with his hands, cooking breakfast, and going out for ice cream. There were other things that Bruce didn’t love doing, but did because he loved us: paperwork and reports, long meetings, Mexican food, and talking about money. For so much of our shared work, both loved and unloved, Bruce was ready.

Once Bruce got clean and committed himself to the life and work of our community, his life was marked by prayer in a special way. Wherever Bruce landed, whether it was the house on North Main, an apartment nearby, or his eventual home on Moffett St next to the Urban Farm, Bruce soon carved out a special place for a Bible, a prayer book, a pair of reading glasses, and a chair. Bruce was quiet, but steady in his prayers for each of us and so many of you. To ask Bruce to pray for somebody or something was to know that it would be remembered and thoughtfully considered, even if only rarely mentioned. He gave himself to wrestling with scripture and the teachings of Jesus. He lived them out in front of our eyes, often drawing us deeper into the path of mercy or grace. On one occasion, Bruce reminded us of the wisdom and cost of love in practice, when a man attacked him with a baseball bat. With tears in his eyes for having punched the man in self-defense, Bruce offered forgiveness and love to his enemy in a way that left me awed. Bruce chose the path of love and his attacker joined him there, choosing to get clean shortly thereafter and take up the work of ministry in our neighborhoods. By the prayers of his heart, his mouth, and his actions, Bruce was ready.

When Bruce was admitted to the hospital this past August, I dreaded to find out what was wrong. So many concerning symptoms were wrapped up with my dear friend’s life that I feared our shared story would soon have a tragic turn. On August 14, 2017, shortly after I left his hospital room to pick up my daughter from school, Bruce had a stroke. It took him a long time to come off of the ventilator in the ICU and a little longer to come back to himself. We found out that, in addition to his stroke, he had cancer and it had spread. He was scared and we were heartbroken. He decided to fight and for several days he got stronger, even getting up and walking a little bit for a few days in a row. But, the cancer he had was relentless and he soon weakened and knew that he was facing death. In those weeks, the community gathered round him and prayed earnestly with him. The medical staff was astonished at how deep was the love for Bruce. They googled him, the said, because surely he must be a special man to have so many who love him so much. When he was given the option, Bruce insisted that he wanted to go home for the last few steps of the journey. He wanted to die in his home, and Bruce was ready.

So, they carried him to his home next to the Urban Farm and the Tool Library. They laid our dear brother in a borrowed, hospital bed in the living room of the house he had made a home. He looked out over the garden and the tool library. He scratched his cat, Booboo, behind the ears. He talked on the phone with friends who could not make it into town quickly enough. He consoled us in our grief and loved us through our tears. We did what he asked us to do: we waited nearby, we sang songs, we played cards, and we told jokes. Nearly two dozen of us took time to make that living room a holy place full of the things and people that Bruce loved so dearly. Then, late on Friday, September 8, 2017, Bruce slipped away into glory.

Bruce was ready. We weren’t. But we’re accustomed to Bruce teaching us how to do things.

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Things have been very busy lately with many trips to the hospital, so this edition of our newsletter contains a story first published two years ago.


It’s already about twelve minutes after the time we’re supposed to get started when I step out onto the porch. “Five minutes and we’re going to get started, yall,” I say, knowing full well that I probably mean more like eight or nine minutes. There are cigarettes and cups of coffee to finish and at least one more conversation waiting for most of us. Answered by a chorus of nods and waves, I head back inside to pick up the remnants of a conversation with a sister who’s still learning who we are and why she’s a blessing by her presence.

Once again, we will not start our community prayers on time, but it’s hard to be on time when you’re trying to learn to pray without ceasing. Some of us gather on the porch, while others wander the garden, inspecting the tomatoes and eggplants in particular. Some of us have already found a seat in one of the house’s living rooms turned community prayer spaces. Depending on where we’re sitting or standing, we might be having a boisterous conversation or keeping silence and searching for the whisper of the Holy Spirit. We’re learning to see the unceasing praying in those moments when we’ve already started our prayers, even though we’ve not passed anything out and the only songs we’ve been singing are badly belted top forty hits or classic rock bass lines.

When the last car packed full of brothers and sisters from another neighborhood pulls around the corner, the folks on the porch and in the garden start making their way to our makeshift chapel. What makes it a chapel and not a high-ceilinged living room is the countless prayers it has heard and our agreement one with another that this is a place we all go to meet God. As we gather, each of us finds a seat or a spot on the floor around a beat up black coffee table. With everyone gathered, the children help to cover our altar with an old green curtain spotted with candle wax, but no less sacred for the mess. We place the steadily shrinking, white, pillar candle we use for our Christ candle in the middle of our table-turned-altar. Then we add our prayer book, a Bible, and maybe our plate and cup before our youngest brothers and sisters find a lap to sit on somewhere in the room. We light the candle and take a moment or two of silence, or as close as we can get to silence, to calm our minds and welcome Jesus into our makeshift place of prayer. Of course, he’s been there since long before the click of a stick lighter.

So, we sing and we pray. We gather up the prayers of the people packed into that room where the fan has to stay on. Some of our prayers are for loved ones, while others are for us. Many of the prayers will be for sisters and brothers struggling with homelessness, hunger, addiction, and deprivation. We lift up a brother, whose days remaining in jail will be counted and recounted like prayer beads each time we gather together. We clap, hoot, and holler for a sister who announces, with praise to God, that she’s been clean for eight days and this time she intends to stick with it. Some of the loudest “amens” come from our leaders who are also recovering, but the loudest comes from her husband who has been bragging about her for at least six of those eight days, and is quietly celebrating nearly nine months of his own recovery. We pray for people who have recently started sleeping on the streets, some of them in the room with us, while also praying for the brothers and sisters sleeping in our hospitality rooms. We pray for peace with our enemies and for peace with those who might name us as enemies. We pray for justice and mercy to be so wrapped up with each other in our world that we can’t tell which is which.

We pray for God to turn our every breath and action into a prayer, proclaiming God’s greatness and worthiness. We want to pray unceasingly and we no other way to do it than to turn the living of our lives into a prayer.

Praying together has taught us to slow down to make room for people to offer worship to God even in ways in which they are not strong by the world’s standards. Sometimes, we’ve learned that prayer sounds like a brother reading scripture haltingly but lovingly. After we read the scripture together, we interpret it and often find that the Spirit’s voice waits for us in unexpected places. We have to slow down, so we can listen carefully for God who may choose to speak to us in the happy tears of a brother no longer homeless or in the hard won experience of a sister with an empty refrigerator. God doesn’t always show up in the same place, but God does always show up.
Sometimes, we pass the plate and cup to remind each other that all of us are welcome at God’s table and God has died for all of us, regardless of what the world says about our deficits and gifts. Sometimes, we dip our fingers in water to remember the vows we made to follow Jesus when we were baptized into his death. Sometimes, we pray over each other with oil on our fingers and foreheads, asking God for healing of so many different kinds: physical health, recovery from addiction, mental health, spiritual peace, and as many other types of healing as there are ways of being broken.

We close with a blessing designed for all of us to pronounce. With hands joined and looking from face to face, we pronounce a blessing over those God has put in our lives to teach us to pray and follow. But, it will be another thirty or forty minutes most weeks before everybody has finally made their way home by foot, bicycle, or packed into a shared car. Our prayer continues in a dozen tiny ways: making a pot of coffee, picking up cooling conversations where we left them, catching a few more minutes of daylight on our skin while talking about bad days and hard weeks, drawing on the front wall with sidewalk chalk, talking a little more about what that scripture might have meant, and cutting cake to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or days, weeks, months, or years of recovery. We may not bow our heads and we may not fold our hands, but all these little things are just as much our prayers to our loving, gracious, and hospitable God who knows you can’t be late to prayer if you’re learning to pray with your life.

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