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The following was written by Louise, who spent the summer working in Danville, and was able to hang around Grace and Main for a little while. Some important things to know about her, according to her: she loves being outside, she drinks coffee at all hours, and this summer was pretty formative. The piece below is something she wrote for Showcase magazine, but here’s an extended version sharing a few of the many things she learned this summer.
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
-Wendell Berry from “The Loss of the Future” in The Long-Legged House (1969)
Wendell Berry writes wonderfully compelling pieces about community – about the joy of shared places, the mysticism of truly knowing another, the necessity of life together. But very few times have I encountered an embodiment of this kind of community. A community that is more than an emotion or a buzzword, but community as a verb, a lifestyle. Grace and Main Fellowship embodies this kind of community.
Grace and Main began as a group of friends meeting to share food, thought, and one another. This community has grown into a ministry that invites all who are willing to come. Grace and Main does not have a building; their spaces are the areas they occupy – their urban farm, the six hospitality houses around the city, the porches they sit on for coffee in the mornings, and the homes they meet at on Sunday evenings for prayer and fellowship. Grace and Main is committed to hospitality, peace, the teachings of Jesus, imitation of the early Church, and living simply. They have taught me much this summer, some of which I’d like to share here.
I’ve learned that there are different types of poverty – poverty is not always one of material resources. There is emotional and spiritual poverty, there is poverty of agency. In seeking to alleviate one, we must not impose another.
That things must start by relation. It is in relationships with people that we grow, that we make places better, that we learn how to make things better.
That knowing your neighbor is the best security system one could have.
That a solution borne out of dominance, without asking those whom it affects, is in and of itself, violent.
That gardening is good for the soul.
That this ministry is made up of people experiencing homelessness and hunger, of people not experiencing homelessness, and of others who have experienced both. All of these people need one another. All of them are required for this community to flourish.
That groundhogs don’t like tomatoes, but they will eat one bite out of each one, just to make sure they don’t actually like them.
That it’s good to know only a first name. I spent much of my summer at the urban farm, enjoying the company and conversation that always accompanied work. On one occasion, Bruce mentioned that knowing someone is about knowing them where they are now; last names, accolades, titles – none of those things are needed to really and truly know someone. But I so often find myself desiring those pieces of information within seconds of encountering a new face; where did he go to school, how many degrees does she hold, where have they lived. Bruce’s mention of the beauty of only knowing a first name caused me to pause. I think my desire to know someone’s last name, their jobs, and their titles reveals a warped understanding of human worth; in desiring those pieces of information, I’m deeming worth as something made by humans, instead of given by a Creator. Grace and Main has shown me the beauty of enjoying a person for who they are in that very moment – for that, all you need is one name.
That it’s always a good idea to potluck, and that eating good food is important.
That hospitality is both a mindset and an action; it’s hospitable to serve people with your home, your time, and your attention.
That it’s important to let children be children – even if that means mess sometimes.
That voices singing together are the only musical talent you need; or rather, it’s all the Spirit needs to move those in the presence of those voices.
That the ground is rich. And interdependence is good.
There are other things I know I’ll want to tell people back home about this community – the things they do on a weekly basis, the places they serve, and so on – but that I’ll leave to searching the website; it does a far superior job of explaining those things than I would ever do. Here though, I hope I’ve communicated gratitude for the people who have unknowingly been my teachers this summer. That here I’ve encouraged you to seek out real community, along with the very real joy that comes from truly knowing, and needing, other people. Grace and Main, you as a collective unit poured into me so faithfully this summer. Thank you for living the way you do, for loving this world so well, and for pointing me toward Jesus.
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Here are five of Grace and Main’s favorite photos from the past month (or so) for folks who might be interested in getting a glimpse of community life and our shared life and work.