Sunday, Dec 3rd

By:Maggie Leonard

Mark 13.24-3713.24-37

Refection—v. 36, ‘or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly’
I suffer from FOMO. It’s been a struggle my whole life. I have the Fear Of Missing Out, Group Pic-01FOMO. It’s that fear that has kept me up late at slumber parties, conferences, dance par- ties, and family gatherings. I want that experience. I want that connection. I want that memory. After all, sleep is for the weak! If I’m honest though, I haven’t had much FOMO when it comes to my relationship with God—which is problematic. I suppose my mental- ity is that God will always be there, so I can catch up with God later. And surely, God wants me to take care of myself, right? God understands that I need to sleep, even if my friends don’t. But it seems like I could be missing out on an awful lot. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we had a Fear Of Missing Out of God and God’s Kingdom? I’m not talking about that guilty, shaming, knee-knocking, hell-fire-and-brimstone type of fear, but rather that fear of missing out on the beautiful, the awe-inspiring, the well-rested, the fun-loving and loving-kindness peaceful existence that could be found in God. How is it that we aren’t scared of missing out on that? It’ll require a change of priorities, courage, and abundant hope, but I suspect that it will be well worth it.

Prayer God, help us turn to you that we may partcipate in your joyful kingdom.

Monday, Nov 30th

By: Maggie Leonard

Luke 21. 25-36

Reflection—v. 26, ‘there will be signs’

Do you see it? Do you see it right now?  A distressed earth plagued by pollution. Nations confused, unsure on which human need or crisis to place their attention. Can you see them shudder from fear at healing—that a drug offender has been released from prison, that we might talk with our enemies in Iran and Cuba, that two people can legally declare their love for one another, that someone who grew up eating different foods and speaking another language might live next door, that putting down arms might end the cycle of violence more quickly than adding more weapons?  What is coming to this world, what God will rain down on us, what might be shaken in heaven, just might be more love, more conversation, more peace, more acceptance.  Exactly who is bringing about the end of the world? Might we see how God is saving us? Might we see where God is leading us? God’s kingdom is near. Get out of the way, and spread the love.

Prayer  God, please drive the fear from our hearts.  May we not be vengeful, but rather hope in the goodness of your work and the hearts of your people.  Like you, let us seek more love, more peace, and more acceptance.

Sunday, Nov 29th

By: Maggie Leonard

Luke 21. 25-36

Reflection—v. 27, ‘see the Human One coming on a cloud’

I think it’s this line that throws folks off.  Obviously, if the Son of Man is to comeIMG_20150702_123925 riding in on a cloud, Jesus must be talking about the future—there was no cloud riding pre-resurrection, never mind that in Luke the Son of Man ascends to heaven in front of a crowd, passing by the clouds as he rises.  We must still be waiting for it. In this Advent text, Jesus names what others refuse to see—for chapters he has been bemoaning the current state of things, comparing and contrasting the differences between things of the Roman Empire’s kingdom and things of God’s kingdom; predicting the fall of the Temple under the rule of the Roman government, the neglect of the vulnerable, the inconsistency of Jerusalem, his own death and resurrection, and the persecution that the disciples will inevitably face as they preach the truth of Jesus. All that surrounded them were signs of how much we need God’s grace. Advent is a season in which we take time to see our brokenness and the destruction around us, that we might be eager to receive God’s grace, God’s salvation. Like the disciples, we look to the clouds failing to understand that God is standing in front of us.

Prayer  Help us to know you are with us here, now.  Open our hearts to your grace.

Ten Years at Mercy

By: Johnathan Wells

The past ten years have been a pleasure to watch and experience. Mercy has undergone many changes, and I have been there to witness all of them. We at Mercy are blessed to be fed and clothed with good, orderly IMG_6571direction. For many of us, we are aiming for a more disciplined life, though each member is given freedom of choice in all their affairs. Pastors Chad Hyatt and Maggie Leonard have been wonderful in their contributions to growing Mercy Church. We are also blessed that other churches mingle with us and serve along side of us as volunteers. I personally like participating in the youth development with church groups from across the country—experiences with groups from North and South Carolina have been particularly meaningful for me. Pastor Maggie is a wonderful yoga instructor and does well with crisis management. It is my hope that the members of Mercy Church will encourage their leadership team to broaden the church programs to emphasize self-dependency. May God grant and give us at Mercy God’s wonderful grace to better our choices and to serve each other for many years to come.

A Holy and Wholly Different Experience

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http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/7/21/holy-and-wholly-different-experience/

By: Parrish Jones

Pastor Maggie Leonard likes to throw water around, especially baptismal water.

As she writes in her church newsletter, “It is no mistake when the water poured into our baptismal font gathers energy and sloshes over the sides onto the floor. God is there, right in the middle of the mess of our relationships.” Worshippers at Atlanta’s Mercy Community Church, which is nested in the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, where Leonard serves, find the spray from the water a bit surprising, but Leonard hopes all will come to accept it as “a delicious drop of grace on our skin.”

Being at Mercy Community Church is like entering into baptism as one finds oneself immersed in a holy and wholly different experience — homeless people eat breakfast, serving each other, anxious to share about all that is being done in the community. Instead of the housed serving the homeless, one finds the homeless serving each other and the housed. Following breakfast, the participants immerse themselves in fellowship, worship and the Word.

Each of the five weekly services, occurring on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, incorporates a different creative enrichment program: writing, small group counseling sessions, drawing and painting. Also on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, worshipers prepare food and serve it on the streets. On Sundays, Mercy feasts at the Lord’s Table and, then holds a common meal.

This schedule sounds like a full plate for the two-full time pastors — Leonard and Chad Hyatt —both of whom are serving without compensation except for the few donations Leonard gets from friends and family. Hyatt and his wife derive their income from her work at a local university.

This decision came after several years of serving as a full-time staff member of a Pentecostal church. Hyatt experienced a transformative experience in Jamaica when he traveled there to do mission work with the Roman Catholic order Missionaries of the Poor. He helped monks trying to rescue a man from a stoning and then ministered to him in his dying moments. Hyatt referred to this experience as a baptism that led him and his wife to move closer to the margins of ministry.

Leonard got involved in Mercy while working as a chaplain at an Atlanta hospital. She went with a friend and couldn’t stop going. When her first call came up, she felt committed to the community and followed that call, receiving validation through the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. She was ordained by the presbytery at a service at Mercy. Those who can’t afford a full-time pastor need pastoral care just as much as those who can, Leonard said.

It is an odd mix for a church to have a Presbyterian pastor working with a Pentecostal pastor who studied at a Methodist school of theology. But Hyatt and Leonard celebrate their different styles of worship just as they celebrate the diversity of Mercy, which includes members of all ages and of Anglo, African American and Latino backgrounds.

The diversity is also celebrated by music ranging from rock ‘n’ roll to quietly meditative. The singing is accompanied by guitars, an African Djembe drum, a vase with glass stick, a soup pot, coffee cups, tambourines and a gourd shaker.

While Mercy is made up of mostly people who are homeless, other members have homes of varying degrees of stability. Mercy regularly prays for those who are incarcerated or dealing with mental or physical illness. Bible studies deal honestly with the issue of addictions and other “sinful” behaviors.

Who are the members? Hyatt replied as Leonard nodded agreement, “Those who come. Traditional models of membership can exclude and we want to include.” Some who are highly engaged with Mercy are members of other churches. In this, and other respects, Mercy is unlike most churches as Kevin Bowden, who shared his gift of music during worship, said, “I have found God, love, grace and home here at Mercy.”

Also, unlike many churches, Mercy is not insular — it touches the lives of the more than 250 people it counts as its community. Part of Mercy’s ministry is keeping track of those who are serving prison sentences, thereby maintaining their connection to the community.

Three days a week, Mercy immerses itself in the city by loading grocery carts with soup, water, sandwiches and coffee and pushing them to two locations to share food on the street. At each place, they pause and bless the food that it may bless the lives of those who eat it and thereby continue the circle of baptism by which we promise to nurture God’s children with faithfulness.

Parrish Jones is an ordained minister member of St. Augustine Presbytery and teaches philosophy at St. Johns River State College and writes for PNS and other media outlets. He has recently published Presbyterians on the Frontier: A Story of Presbyterian Border Ministry 1984 to 2014. You can purchase his book and learn more about his work at www.presbyteriansonthefrontier.net.

Tubs, Suds, and Glory

By: Alan Mackie

Last month I was having breakfast with Chad and my pastor, George Tatro of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. Over the grits, Chad reminded us of a conversation that we had had some months previously about Memorial Drive washing the clothes for the members of Mercy. IMG_2514

As the need had become quite urgent, the solution was seemingly straightforward. I rather boldly committed Memorial Drive to doing the washing twice a month, starting within the week.

And so our laundry ministry was born. Chad delivered nine large bags of dirty laundry to Memorial Drive.  In committing our new endeavour to God, a bag of the dirty laundry was brought into the sanctuary and dedicated as a part of our weekly offering in our Sunday service. By Wednesday, I had three other volunteers to join me at the Medlock coin wash to sort, wash, dry, and fold.  We had fun and fellowship with each other, so much so that some of the other patrons became curious to know what we were up to.

At the end of the first evening, before leaving the laundry, we stood, held hands and said the grace together. Then one of our number pointed to the ceiling and said, “To God be the Glory”. It made me think: can the simple and practical task of washing dirty clothes be described as “glorious?” I don’t know for sure, but I believe that in God’s hands it can. And God will be glorified, if doing the laundry softens our hearts and makes us more loving towards those who live on the hard edges of society. As the laundry ministry gets underway, I believe God has much to teach us amidst the  “tubs and suds.”

The other week, we read together the late Lynda Baker’s homeless psalm and considered our own struggles and connivance with the ‘System’ that could not break Lynda.

We like to think of the laundry as a ministry, because it sets it apart from our routine chores and helps us to be mindful that we are doing the washing in simple obedience of Christ’s injunctions to love our neighbour and make sure that “the naked are clothed.” We even have a short reflection on Scripture, sitting there on the benches in the coin wash while the washing cycle is underway.

I am also delighted to say that friends from North Decatur Presbyterian Church are joining our laundry ministry and a local mosque is committed to donating clothes. We all believe, you see, that the God of Abraham is a God of promises and God is working through all God’s children.

The 35-Year Layover

By: Vickie Headrick

My name is Vickie Headrick.  I came to Atlanta 35 years ago by way of a Greyhound bus in 1978.  I was coming from Montgomery, headed towards Knoxville—I had a two and a half hour layover here in Atlanta and have been here ever since.Vicki's Hands

Mercy was, and is, a safe haven for me.  It has been a good place for me to visit, especially when there is bad weather (our worst nightmare on the streets).  Before I started attending Mercy I had been homeless for about 15 years off and on.  I am glad to have a place where I am welcome during the day.  I spend a lot of time walking—sometimes all day and half the night— looking for a place where I am welcome to rest or lay my head.  Sometimes I can manage to find a friend to put me up for a few days, it’s nice to get a shower, a fresh change of clothes, and be able to rest peacefully.  Sometimes one of God’s angels comes along and puts me up in a hotel for a couple days.  Much of my day is spent trying to find refuge from the weather or find a spot where I would go unnoticed.

I like how Mercy built itself as community and how we help and nurture our friends, homeless or not.  Mercy has helped me to utilize my spare time.  Like the phrase goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”  I know that I will always have a place to come, not only to utilize the facilities, but to have a chance to mingle with my friends, and participate in Bible studies and recovery meetings.  I have learned a lot.

Recently, we at Mercy joined up with the good people of St. John’s Lutheran Church.  They put aside a part of their church property to have a garden with us.  I had a good time gathering with them at the church one Saturday to start the project.  We nailed boards together to create raised beds, which we then painted and filled with dirt.  There is one bed of tomatoes, another of squash, a third with melons, and the last is filled with strawberries!  It was well worth getting dirty for the project; we will be eating well this summer!

Scales Falling off

By: Justin Chambers

I have been here in Georgia and at Mercy for roughly eight months now.  That’s been more than enough time to have more than a few life-changing experiences. Each experience has invited and forced me to grow my proverbial edges, sometimes to the point of discomfort.  Yet each produced amazing growth. I came to this year of service expecting to help others and be the face of God for someone else.  More often, however, I have seen God’s face in those I came to served. Justin Eating

I followed God’s call to Atlanta, but was skeptical about what I would find.  I wondered if I was going through some kind of a quarter-life crisis, spending a year volunteering instead of getting a “real job.”  I came seeking to change the world, instead I have had a journey-to-Damascus-scales-falling-off-the-eyes-life-changing kind of experience.

I first started to notice that my world view was changing when I visited the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia—it is the largest immigrant detention facility in the country and is privately owned.  The detention center looked a lot like a prison to me.  Security was tight: the gates were 10 feet high with barbed wire at the top, families were sent away unable to visit their loved ones, and for those of us who did make it in, we had to talk to the detainees on a telephone because the plastic window was too thick for sound to pass through.

I assumed once again that I would have the opportunity to be a super-volunteer and minister to an “evil-doer” who had reason to be locked away. Once again, I was wrong. The detainee ministered to me more than he may ever know.  He asked me about my life  goals—he was genuinely interested, and it showed. We even talked about my relationship with my estranged eldest brother who is in prison. My life connected with that of this stranger—noticing injustices in the world and expressing our hopes for the years to come. In the midst of all the uncertainty—deportation—we connected and the figurative barriers fell, though the thick plastic remained. At the end of our conversation, we fist-bumped through the glass and parted ways.

I had no idea that many people like my new friend had no choice in  coming to the States. Frequently, people are brought to the States by their parents when they are just two or three because their parents hope to be able to better provide for their family here.  And honestly, I had never cared about what I did not know—I was comfortable with the “us/them” rhetoric and scapegoating debates of politics.  They were not like me and it did not concern me.

Soon after, I found myself standing at Catch-Out Corner sharing food with Mercy.  As I looked at my sisters and brothers who had gathered around our coolers, grateful for lunch with few prospects of catching-out a day labor job, I realized that many of my friends could easily end up in the detention center.  I saw how vulnerable my Latino sisters and brothers were, standing out on this corner, ready to work, and frequently watched by the police. I knew I saw them differently.

But they were not the only people I saw differently.  I knew other scales had fallen to the ground, in fact, the ground around me was littered with scales.  I hadn’t realized it, but I spent my first month at Mercy in a state of blindness.   I realized that day by day folks in our community were helping to free me of those scales that blinded my eyes.   Now I am aware that some days my sisters and brothers merely had to wipe the scales off, my view of the world changed, became clearer.  Other days they were surely using pliers to yank off the scales as I resisted change.

I am grateful to know that I don’t go about experiencing change alone.  I am supported.  I am in community.  Just as Paul had Ananias, I have my sisters and brothers at Mercy walking with me.  We help each other.  Saul would never have regained his sight if it were not for his obedience and the obedience of Ananias. Talk about walking by faith and not by sight! Ananias chose a hard, uncomfortable journey—that is living in community. We all have shameful moments in our past, but in this same community we come together and find, or regain, our sight and perspective. It is in this community where folks come and touch my eyes with their stories.  Day by day, I learn to see this world a little differently.

This community has changed my life; I can never look at church the same. Truth be told, sometimes I find myself living with my new sight and other times I find myself on my knees trying to piece my old life back together.

Christ offers new sight every day! The choice is ours. We can either stand up and live or try to take steps back into blindness.

I know I have so much more to see and learn (and it’s probably going to take a jackhammer to get the rest of the scales off), but I choose to see. I choose to see the church being called outside the four walls of a building. I choose to go out to the hedges and highways, remembering to look in the hedge and under the highway because that may be where one of our brothers or sisters is looking for community. Seeing as Christ sees is a process, one that can be painful and joyous; yet a process never the less. I look forward to what is to come; there is no point in turning back now!

From Home-less to Home-more

By: Kevin Bowden

Raised in a typical working-class Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina, I have faint memories as a child of helping set up folding metal chairs before and after the services.  My parents were the founding members of Freedom Baptist Church.  It was at Freedom that I learned of God’s word.  When the pastor changed, we looked for God’s word elsewhere, at tent revivals and big churches—eventually we became members of a new Baptist church.  God’s DSCF5321word seemed to change.  Every week there was a new hellfire and brimstone message from a different preacher.  Very rarely were words such as mercy or love used in services, or even in our conversations.  Even the tone of the ride home from church became different.

Now I find myself in Atlanta, attending a new church, though I hesitate to call it a church, because it doesn’t feel like church as I’ve known it.  It is more like a community.

Here we use words like mercy, grace, love, and faith.  I find my walk “home” to the Old Fourth Ward (MLK birth neighborhood) a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable than the car rides from church back in North Carolina.

During communion one Sunday, in describing Christ’s body, Chad said, “Like the bread which must be broken in order to be shared…”  I felt as if God were speaking to me, saying, “It’s okay that you’ve been broken—and you are not alone—go out and  share your testimony, music, and art with the world.”

I have found God, love, grace, and home here at Mercy Community Church.  Words can’t describe my gratitude to God and Mercy for providing me with these gifts.  I think a lot about a church that doesn’t pass collection plates but instead plates of food; where teachings focus on how to love others, God, and yourself; that reminds you not to fear.  I do not feel home-less but home-more.  When I set up chairs before our service, it reminds me of when I was young at Freedom Baptist, and I reflect on the good times at church and with my family—the things that can’t be bought anywhere.

Bible Study by Kevin grayscale

Lynda Joyce Baker, Beloved Disciple of Jesus, (1955-2013)

Dearest of Friends,IMG_4061

It is one of the most difficult tasks that befall those called to pastor God’s people that along with the good news of God’s triumph over death through Christ we must also bear the sad news of the passing of those we love so dearly.  And so it is today, as I share the difficult tidings that our beloved friend and sister, Lynda Joyce Baker, has died.

As many of you may already know, Lynda had just recently moved into a home she could finally call her own–a creative “wooden tent” built by our friends the Mad Housers, and located up in the woods off Custer Avenue, close to Moreland.  It is not unusual to not hear from Lynda, especially when she believes things are going well for her or the first of the month arrives.  But Sunday had been a week since we had seen Lynda and today a week since we had heard she was out and about.  Despite repeated attempts to catch her at home by different folks, we still hadn’t laid eyes on her.  And so it was that today, after Mercy had closed, that I went traipsing once again through the fields and woods to find her.

I did, of course.  We can all take comfort in the fact that it appears she died peacefully in her sleep, apparently of natural causes.  There were no signs of trauma.  While we still don’t know how long she had been deceased, it seems very obvious that it had not been very long at all.  And perhaps most importantly of all, she passed from this life to another and better home having at long last found one she was pleased to call her own on this earth.  She was hoping to arrange a blessing for that little wooden hut.  After the medical examiner had come and gone, I made the sign of the cross over it and blessed it in the name of the Homeless Christ and in hope of housing for all of us.

We will be working with the Medical Examiner to try and locate family and to figure out final arrangements for her body.  We are required both morally and legally to make every effort to contact next of kin, of course.  When that process has concluded, rest assured that we will let all of you know when a memorial service for Lynda will take place.

Along with Pastor Maggie, I send all of you our love and prayers and hope.

Peace and Good,
Chad

The Homeless Psalm

Lynda Joyce Baker, 2010

The System is my shepherd,

I lack everything that I need.

The System makes me to lie down

On the concrete.

The System tells me I’m not good enough

For its water.

The System slowly destroys my soul.

Yea, though I daily walk through the System’s wastelands,

The System still tries to destroy me.

Their constant hounding and no sleep

Do not comfort me.

The System doesn’t do anything for me,

My cup is surely dry.

Surely hatred and intolerance shall follow me

All the days of my life in the System.

And I shall dwell in the house of lack forever.

As Lynda wrote this beautiful Psalm, which we use in reflection every time a group visits our beloved community, she would be most restless if I did not offer a disclaimer.  Lynda’s world was by no means dominated by “the System.” Though she daily struggled with what she was (or was not) offered, and her health suffered for it, Lynda believed most strongly and joyfully in God who cared for her.  The system never had a final say in her life.  This Psalm, which I strongly believe had a basis in her life and which she strongly believed was delivered to her by God one day while she was idly reading other material, has proven to be one our greatest teaching tools at Mercy.  No youth will pass through Mercy’s doors without wrestling with this Homeless Psalm, Psalm 23,and finally creating a hopeful psalm of christian community where the system meets God’s grace and our empowerment.  Thanks be to God for the life of Lynda Baker.

with love and peace,
maggie