My Sabbatical Begins...
The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that a pastor is to take a sabbatical every 5-7 years for the purpose of study, renewal and rest. I have not done this since 2005 so I am very grateful to my bishop for approving this time and to my staff for filling the gaps while I am away. During this time, I plan to focus on learning more about the Fresh Expressions Movement. Each week I will write a blog report from my visits to Fresh Expressions sites, from books I am reading and insights from people I am interviewing. My first field visit was last week to Shades of Grace UMC in Kingsport, Tennessee. See the pictures below. Shades of Grace is a worshiping community in downtown Kingsport meeting in a storefront location. The congregation is about 50% homeless people and 50% folks from Kingsport who support the mission and have found a life transforming faith in this ministry.
Rev. Will Shewey was called of God to start this ministry and told me and Meri that he literally felt he would die if he did not follow this vision. They have been meeting 3 years & have become fully self-supporting. People hear about the ministry and give generously. They have dozens of volunteers, 2 pastors and other staff who give their time freely. They have an active social media presence and receive gifts from far and wide. They serve breakfast daily, offer GED classes, Bible study, lively worship, a clothes closet, and multiple services.
When they first opened, some of the local business people tried to shut them down. These leaders researched the UMC and our commitment to social justice and the poor. They came to Rev. Shewey and said they discovered that Methodism was a global movement with strong connections nationwide. They realized they could not shut the church down so they decided instead to join in and support the mission. Shades of Grace works closely with the city and business community to be a good neighbor and now they are welcomed and supported by many businesses, even the local funeral home!
Their worship service includes prayers at the altar and people stream forward for this ministry. They have seen numerous miracles and lives changed. They have also seen some people stay on the street and even lose their life. Their saving grace is to know they were Christ's presence to them and hopefully showed them God's unconditional love and amazing grace.