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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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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.