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.

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

Poem written by friends visiting from Oxford, MS

By: St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church’s Youth Group

From what we have, let us share!

As God’s people, we support one another because God loves and supports us.

We will encourage one another every today.Photo on 2013-03-11 at 14.13

For all we lose physically from our abundance, we gain spiritually.

When we’re lost in dark valleys—when we feel anguish, brokenness, hopelessness, sadness, anger, loneliness—let us helping hand, comforting shoulder, and listening ear we will accept the help of our neighbors.

When we are feeling good, healthy, and energetic, we will do the same for others.

We, God’s people, will provide warm beds to lay our hearts and heads.

May we forever place our hope in the Lord who will give us the confidence and courage to do this good work.

My Year of Transformation

By: Thomas Gutherie

A year and a half ago, as I packed all my belongings from my one bedroom apartment in Sarasota, FL, I realized life was about to look very different.  After college, I had accepted a job as an assistant front office manager at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota and stayed in that IMG_0131position for six months.  As my time at the Hyatt came to an end, I applied to be a volunteer with PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV)program in Atlanta, GA.

I had no idea what would come from the experience:  I was going from a four-star hotel to an outreach center. From offering hospitality to millionaires to offering it to those who have nothing. From working in a business suit to working in ripped jeans and a t-shirt.  From worshiping in a church to worshiping in a night shelter.

I was a qualified business school graduate and was ready to solve problems and help people in need for a year.  I planned to be a committed volunteer, but I was sure that I would return to the corporate world after my year of service.

When I started the program, I was a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. At that time, my prayers sounded something like this: “Thank you, God. Thank you for not making me like other people: the homeless, drug addicts, mentally ill, prostitutes, criminals.  I mean, God, I gave up my salaried position and 401K to come help THESE people in need; I truly am a great person, aren’t I!”

My YAV placement took me to work on the margins. You might ask what does that mean? The term “marginalized” refers to the process in which individuals and entire communities of people are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources, like housing, employment, health care, civic engagement, democratic participation, and due process.  These resources are generally available to members of society and are key to social integration.

Mercy is not like most other agencies that deal with homelessness. All are welcome; as they say at Mercy, “We will meet you wherever you are.” Mercy is unique in that grace is offered to each and everyone. For example, many of the members at Mercy have been banned from other service providers around Atlanta.

I had a lot of frustrations and questions about what I was really doing in Atlanta when I first began. Things were not going the way that I thought they were going to go, the YAV house community was falling short of my expectations, work was good but repetitive, and I was not really seeing any changes in myself.

Eventually I made the decision to be intentional about all my interactions and decisions.  It was then that, my year truly started. During this time I sought out people and ideas that would force me to change.  It was in this time, there on the margins, that my working with the homeless became much more then a job.  Over the course of the year my work with the marginalized  became my passion and my calling.

It was in the beginning stages of striving to become more intentional that I truly immersed myself into the Mercy community. Every week I would look forward to the time I would get to spend with the caring, laughing, struggling, loving community of people at Mercy.  The stories they shared of struggles, brokenness, and pain were always honest and from the heart, not holding anything back.  It was the pure honesty of the community that allowed me to imagine another way of being.

Mercy is a place of transformation. Not only for those dealing with homelessness, but anyone who walks through the gates: volunteers, interns, youth groups, and mission groups.

One cold morning a young woman came in off the streets with a guitar strapped on her back and hot pink hair.  It was just like any other morning at Mercy, a mass of us sat on the patio and shared hot coffee, bagels, bread and homemade jelly.  Later, after prayer and

Bible study, we gathered in a circle for music time where we loudly sang and played our favorite songs using guitars, djembe, tambourines, shakers, and pots. It happened that this day our new friend decided to join us and eventually asked to share an original song with the group. I could tell she was nervous by the shakiness of her hands and voice. In the middle of her song she left abruptly and fled for the bathroom in tears.

When she returned, she started packing her guitar, looking to get out as quickly as she came in. “Don’t go! Stay here with us and play some more,” the group encouraged. Her demeanor instantly changed and she sat back down in the circle.  At one point, near the end of the day, she even told me that she had been looking for a church family for most of her life and today she had finally found one here at

Mercy. When she left that day she was filled with joy and full of the Holy Spirit.  I was completely blown away by the power of simple, genuine hospitality that Mercy offers each and every day.

Re-engaging this story months later, Chad helped me see that Mercy offered the same love, hospitality, grace to me as the girl.

I finally recognized my own brokenness, which allowed me to start the hard work of becoming whole. Just like the Pharisee in the gospel reading, it is very easy to identify the brokenness of others, especially those living on the margins.

I realized that we are all just as broken as those living on the margins, though I, and many of us, work hard to hide it.  It is in our brokenness that all of us can begin the journey of healing. My prayer sounds now more like that of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, for I realize how broken and full of sin I truly am.”

Of Hoboes and Jelly Bread Sandwiches

By: Trish Demaris-Cravens

When I volunteer at Mercy Community Church, I often assist in the kitchen.  Not long ago, as I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for serving on the street, I was struck by a memory.lunch2

I figure that I was seven or eight at the time.  It was a summer morning when a stranger in well-worn overalls and a raggedy work shirt came to our kitchen door.  Grey stubble covered his chin, and his sun-browned skin looked as tough as old leather.

My mother opened the door and the man asked if she had any work for him.  Leaving me to gawk at the stranger, she went to her sewing basket and returned with her sewing scissors (The ones I’d be hided for if I used them to cut paper dolls).

Taking the scissors, the whiskered man sat down under a big elm in the back yard.  I followed.

He set to work at once.  Sitting with a flat stone on his knee, he methodically stroked the scissors’ blades over the stone.  From time to time he’d spit on the stone, then continued to hone the blades.  When he was satisfied with the blades’ edges, he took the scissors to the kitchen door where my mother met him with a tall glass of cold milk and two jelly-bread sandwiches.  

The man thanked my mother and returned to his place under the elm to eat his lunch.  I sat down across from him.  When I couldn’t stem my curiosity any longer, I spoke to him, “Where do you live?”

He regarded me, balancing his glass of milk on his knee. “No place particular,” he said.

I was formulating my next question when I heard my mother.  “Patricia!  Come in here and let the man eat in peace.”

When the stranger returned the empty glass to the kitchen door, I couldn’t reign it in.  “Where are you going now?” I asked.

I recall that he smiled down at me.  “Oh,” he said, drawing it out, “On down the line.”  I watched him walk off until I could see him no more.  

After he had gone, I pressed my mother, “Who was that man?”

“He’s a hobo,” she said.

“What’s a hobo?”

My mother gathered her thoughts.  “Well,” she began, “a hobo is a person who doesn’t have a house to live in… like you do.”

The scissors man was not the only hobo who came to our door back then.  I recall another man who asked my mother if she could “spare a cup of coffee.”  She could and did, and paired it with two jelly-bread sandwiches.  She opened the door to these men without fear or prejudice, fed them, and treated them as if they were neighbors.

Thinking about this long ago time I know there were many such life lessons given to me by my parents without intent or design, but simply through their actions.

Now when I make “Mercy sandwiches” for men and women who live “no place particular,”  I’m grateful for my mother’s compassion.