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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.

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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. 

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_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.

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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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One evening earlier this year, I was giving a half dozen folks a ride home after a particularly fine meal at one of the Grace and Main hospitality houses. We had had one of our perennial favorite meals: chili with baked potatoes, tortilla chips, plenty of shredded cheese, and more black coffee than you’d likely think reasonable. The potatoes had seemed to bake all day and the chili really had been in the crockpot since about 7 that morning. The coffee was extra strong, just like our folks tend to like it – especially Todd, who counts strong, black coffee as one of a very few things he cannot live without. As I snaked through the neighborhood in the golden minivan we call “Lee,” dropping friends off at their homes or a nearby store if they wanted to get some shopping done before going home, I turned the radio on and began to lapse into a silent reconsideration of the night’s activity interrupted intermittently by contented conversation and warm “seeya laters” as we dropped off each friend.

For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get past the noise and activity of the night’s meal. I had heard so many words, both joyful and despairing, and I couldn’t really find a way to make sense of them all. I look forward to our shared meals, but I often find that I come away with a heart full of other’s worries and fears to mix with my own. I love our community and what we get to do and participate in, but it often brings me into communion with heartbreak that I simply can’t explain away.

I recalled a pair of conversations about shelter: one friend who had new, stable shelter for the first time in a long while; the other friend who had unexpectedly lost their shelter because of a crooked deal with a predatory landlord. Another one of our regulars had had to remind me about how he needed some clothes and I had promised to find some for him with a local partner. “I forgot,” I confessed, “but I can do that tomorrow if you like.” I made a note on my phone, but I continued to turn it over in my mind.

A new guest at our meals, who had only been eating and praying with us for a little over a month, had been especially boisterous at the meal and seemed eager to prove himself to the gathered crowd. With a pat on the shoulder, one of our longtime regulars had quieted his nerves and invited him to share a cigarette on the porch. A few of our developing leaders had let me in on some of the neighborhood news that hadn’t yet reached my ears and alternately gave me a laugh and caused some mild concern for a neighbor who might be sick.

All of this was undergirded by the constant chorus of my dear daughter doing animal noises on request, with special attention given to lion and dinosaur roars. The noise of the meal and the many conversations followed me into the van that night. I decided to drop Todd off last, because we don’t always take the most direct route and because he enjoys the quiet. “Maybe in that companionable silence,” I thought, “I might find some meaning in all of the noise.”

So, we rode along with the radio on and paying little attention to whatever forgettable song was playing. As we rounded a familiar corner on the way to Todd’s apartment—the apartment we had helped him move into after we helped him and other leaders get their slum apartment complex shut down—Todd clapped me on the shoulder with a big grin and said, “The Spirit just came over me, Josh.” Just a few seconds later, with the hint of laughter at the foundation of his deep, bass voice, he added, “You know how that happens sometimes?”

Shocked out of my hurried recounting of the night’s activity, I worried that I had missed something in my inward reflection. Anxious that I might have missed some holy moment and eager to catch up, I stalled with the first question that popped to mind: “Just now?”

“Yeah,” Todd responded, with a quiet, common place confidence. “Yeah, just now,” he repeated through a satisfied smile.

“What did the Spirit say, Todd?” I asked, eager to keep Todd talking and hoping that maybe Todd had the words to make all of the disparate parts of our night stick together.

“Nothing much,” Todd admitted, nearly laughing, and added, “just a feeling that it’s all okay, you know?”

“Yeah,” I responded, thoughtfully, and not sure I really did get it. At least not in the same way that Todd did. In the midst of all of the noise of the night, Todd hadn’t found the Spirit like a golden thread running through a dozen conversations. He hadn’t found the Spirit in the holy intersection of God’s lavish providence and the world’s inexhaustible need. He hadn’t found the Spirit in the voice of a friend or a stranger, waiting for him there with a truth of which he needed to be reminded. No, the Spirit “just came over” Todd.

Todd didn’t find the Spirit, the Spirit found him. And when it found him, it didn’t draw meaning out of the noise – not this time – but left him with a wordless confidence in the goodness of all that had come before and all that was coming. In my search for a word or words to ponder in my heart and make sense of our work, I missed the wordless Spirit that came over Todd. But to my great benefit, Todd was paying attention and willing to break silence to share something holy. Todd is teaching us to listen to the hum of a dozen conversations and a noisy, shared meal and know that the Spirit is saying everything will be okay, even if we can’t find the words — especially when we can’t find the words.

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The following reflection was written in the summer of 2014 by Katherine Ellis, Grace and Main’s then Summer Missionary and Artist in Residence. The following is a reflection from the first few weeks of her involvement with us. The piece of art near the bottom is also done by Katherine.


Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, once said, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” This summer God’s people are teaching me the art of living and loving and their presence compels me to respond both in action and thoughtful retrospection.

This summer I am staying in Danville, Virginia, population 43,000. Through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Student.GO missionary intern program I have been commissioned to live and work among the homeless and near homeless of Danville as missionary and artist in residence with Grace and Main Fellowship. It has been over two weeks since I made the long trip from Texas across the North Carolina border into Virginia and my experiences in these past several days have already been overwhelming and compelling. Grace and Main, my community for the summer, describes itself as “an intentional Christian community of hospitality and service.” Deciphering what exactly that means has taken me more than perusing their website. Each day I believe I better understand the radical work that is taking place here in Danville and daily I am humbled to be a small part of it this summer.

Grace and Main is not ushering a community through a soup kitchen line–Grace and Main is ushering a community to its dinner table. Grace and Main is not managing a shelter in town–Grace and Main is opening up its houses and offering hospitality to those without a place to sleep.

One Thursday I was joining what Grace and Main calls the Roving Feast: two or three times a week a few of Grace and Main’s leaders pack a couple dozen sack lunches and set out into the city, to meet people where they are whether that be homeless, drunk, hungry, or just in need of some company. Mark and I gathered up a couple of the brown lunch sacks and walked through someone’s yard toward a tool-shed: Steve’s home. We went inside and sat down next to a mattress on the floor and a discarded dishwasher as I shook hands with Steve who appeared to have had more than one drink that day. We talked about the Daytona 500 and Steve’s childhood and I laughed when Steve persistently apologized for accidentally cursing in front of a lady. As we were leaving, Steve took my hand and squeezed my pinkie finger with his own. He asked if I knew what that meant. I responded, confused, “Is it a promise? Like a pinkie promise?”

Steve replied, “No, that means love, don’t you ever forget that.” I squeezed his pinkie, Mark prayed, and we left. We returned to the shed a few days later. Steve was once again drunk, but glad to see us. The conversation was heavier this week as Mark and Steve danced around the topic of Steve getting help. Steve repeatedly proclaimed that he was tired of drinking–he wanted to stop. At one point I grasped his pinkie finger with my own and asked, “Remember what this means?” After some coaxing, Steve stood up and we walked out of the shed toward my car, toward the ER, toward detox, and toward the hope of freedom from the slavery of addiction. We sat in the ER with Steve for several hours waiting with him.

As the blood was drawn and the first tests were run, Steve took my hand and held it, not letting go for most of the rest of our time there. At one point that evening Steve looked up at me with his weathered skin and untamed beard and quietly noted, “You must think I’m a baby for wanting to hold your hand. It’s just comforting you know, it’s nice to have someone here with me.” Steve is a middle aged man accustomed to the streets and empty bottles, and like all of us he wants to know someone cares, that he matters, that he is loved. This summer I am learning that we all need community. Just as I hope I’m teaching Steve that he is worthy of love and comforting, Steve is teaching me about grace, redemption, and friendship. This summer is messy, Roger walked into Bible study drunk last night and looking for his wife as the 105th Psalm was being read. But also in the room sat Steve, 3 days sober and reciting the Lord’s prayer. Beauty and hope spring forth in the murk where community is riddled with pain and mistakes, but also with the transformation of hearts.

Some of us may live in large houses, drive nice cars, and be able to hide our addictions better than others. We are all slaves to our own forms of addiction whether they are alcohol, drugs, sex, or money, comfort, and success. We may not lump ourselves with those who we consider poor and needy, but not even one of us is immune to poverty of the soul. There is growth that occurs when vice meets faith, when our messy community embraces one another amidst the struggle. We are all impoverished in some manner, all addicted to something, all in need of community, and all in need of a Savior. The people that I am blessed enough to encounter this summer are, as Richard Rohr said, helping me to live myself into new ways of thinking as their stories become entangled with my own. When we come face to face with another’s struggle we are forced to look into their eyes and see our own reflection, our own pain, our own need for detox and healing. Often we all need someone to squeeze our pinkie finger and ask us, “Remember what this means?”

***
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Roland, a man who sometimes looks as if a strong gust of wind might topple him, once promised us, “If I meet Jesus downtown, I’ll make sure to hang onto him long enough to come find you so you can see him too.” Of course, if anybody is going to find Jesus downtown, it’s probably Roland. Not because he’s so particularly observant, though he can be. Rather, it’s because if something happens downtown in our city, Roland knows about it. Nearly every day he’s able, Roland walks our streets with prayer on his lips and the Kingdom on his mind. If somebody’s going to stumble across Jesus, my bet is on Roland.

If you’ve read or heard many of our stories, you probably already know a little bit about Roland. Roland was one of our first new leaders when our community was still very young. Roland was the one who reminded us that “folks need a place to stay” after providing shelter to another on his first night of having shelter of his own. In doing so, he walked with us into a time of prayer and discernment over our community’s calling to hospitality. Roland ran one of our community’s first hospitality houses. Roland stayed with some of us when he was recovering from heart surgery a few winters back and was emphatic that we maintain his home as a place of sanctuary and respite for others while he was recovering. If you’ve visited us, you may have even felt his hand on your head or shoulder when he has offered a thankful prayer and a travel blessing for visiting groups at the end of their stay.

The particularly mindful and attentive of you may also remember that it was in the early days of Grace and Main that we commissioned Roland as our “Minister of Prayer” in a service of commissioning and blessing. But, very often, people are perplexed by the title and wonder what that means in practice. We remind folks of the journal where we collect prayers and praises and of Roland’s faithfulness to pray for the things mentioned therein, but we also have the privilege of witnessing how Roland lives out his calling every day in ways that others don’t. It is our privilege not to give him the work to do as our Minister of Prayer, but to recognize the work God has given him to do and to name it as our shared work and life.

Most days, you can find Roland walking the streets of one of our neighborhoods. If it’s Sunday morning, you can count on him to stop by one of the other Grace and Main houses for a cup of coffee before beginning his walk to church. He begins the walk with every intention to walk all the way (~13 miles one way) if necessary, but is picked up along the way by somebody who will join him at worship. During the week, he offers his prayers in a wide variety of places. On one street, he stops on the sidewalk to pray over a house and its residents whom he knows and occasionally joins for a meal or glass of water. He prays for their health and the success of their children at school. On another corner, he stops to pray at a house where friends once lived and offers thanks for the blessing they were (and are) to us. At a small, local convenience store, Roland offers prayers for the neighborhood even as he listens to talk of those who run the rumor mill at its tables and benches. At a local auto shop, he stops to say hi and to remind one of the men there that he’s praying for him. At a local law office, he collects prayer requests like offerings and faithfully carries them to us and others, so that we might join him in the steady work of prayer.

Like a butterfly drawn to zinnia and lantana, Roland visits place after place and person after person, gathering the nectar of their prayers and leaving behind the unexpected grace of Jesus when he departs.

As we learn from Roland how to be people of unceasing prayer, we’ve learned a few things. Roland is pretty sure that unceasing prayer requires moving feet. He can pray sitting still, he assures us, but there is something to the rhythm of his steps that is nevertheless important. As he gives his life and time to the prayers of others and the contemplation of God, his every footfall becomes a curious prayer in and of itself. By taking up the mantle of a Minister of Prayer, Roland takes up a vocation that fills even a long walk with purpose.

When we’ve asked him why he walks so much and why he is so given to prayer, he tells us stories about wounds he has received over the years and about his own failures. “I’ve been hurt so much,” he confessed to us, “that I had to turn my life over to Jesus.” We’ve grown accustomed to hearing stories of sisters and brothers who’ve turned their lives over to Jesus because of their sin or struggle, but this tiny confession reminded us of two things: (1) sometimes people give themselves to Jesus because they’ve been broken by the world, and (2) there’s just not that much difference in the experience between being broken by the world and breaking yourself across the world.

Having given up a claim to be his own man for his own purposes, Roland has become a man of prayer. In the quiet place made holy by his own sacrifices, Roland’s wounds and brokenness become prayers of their own: “not my will, but yours be done,” they seem to whisper just below hearing. “Jesus’ pockets are deep,” they insist in times of apparent scarcity and need. “Silence, silence in the name of the Lord Jesus,” they reiterate to the anxious soul. The world has been rough on Roland and has taken much from him over the years and he isn’t a perfect person—he wouldn’t want me to portray him that way or let you think for a moment that he is—but the Spirit has sculpted something beautiful out of some of the worst the world has to offer. Every time we lift the stole up upon Roland’s shoulders and ask him to pray with us and for us, we give thanks for what God has made out of Roland: a Minister of Prayer and a brother.

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