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.

Yoga=Peace

By: Derek Sean Turner

When I was a kid, about thirteen years old, I remember my mother taking yoga classes—this was at the height of the Farrah Fawcett inspired exercise craze. I would constantly harass my mom about how silly yoga looked. Fast IMG_20150901_160843forward to 2015, I am stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, and someone—I do not remember who—sent me to Highland and Ponce de Leon to ‘Mercy Church.’ I appreciate Mercy for the activities it offers—Bible study, art class, and music, especially—but above all else I like the yoga classes. Pastor Maggie leads a yoga class on Fridays, in partnership with Centering Youth—a local non-profit that offers free yoga classes to at-risk youth and marginalized populations. I really enjoy the way it relaxes me and helps me find inner peace.

My favorite yoga positions are Locust pose, when you lie on your belly and use your back strength to lift you arms and legs off the floor; Warrior pose, where you stand in a lunge with both arms raised and reaching for opposite walls—this one really works my muscles; and Tree pose, where my balance is challenged—this one helps me find a deeper connection with God. Come join us!

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.

Celebrating Ten Years: We Are Mercy

By: Chad Hyatt

It catches folks by surprise when they first hear us use it. Frequently they even ask us about it. If they stick around long enough, they use it too. Theologians sometimes debate what constitutes the ‘marks’ of the church—IMG_2038those essential characteristics that make a church really church, in the big-C sense. One of the distinctive marks of Mercy is the way we use a pronoun.

It is not unusual for us to talk about a wide variety of community struggles using the first person plural. Our surprising use of the language of ‘we’ may be as good a way as any to describe the essence of what God has done in this little community over the last ten years.

We are homeless, even if some of us live in houses. We are alcoholics in need of recovery, even if some of us have never sipped more than the wine of communion. We are in danger of deportation, even if some of us were born here. We are prisoners, even if some of us have never been convicted of any crime. ‘We’ is the natural pronoun when something more powerful than difference defines who we are.

When people ask me to describe Mercy, I just say, ‘We are a church.’ Many people do not immediately think of us as a church. They may see us as an expression of church—like an outreach, or a mission, or a ministry. And, yes, we do incorporate all those aspects in one way or another. But none of those things alone get to the core, the absolute essence, of who we are. Church does. We are a church, a congregation, a visible community of the much larger, much older, much more ‘catholic’ body of Christ. We are part of that—a particular, tangible expression of that—the mystery that is church.

Metaphorically and in reality, Jesus Christ is at the center of our community, calling us from many scattered places to gather together around himself. Every Sunday, like an old-fashioned revival, we form a meandering circle of sisters and brothers holding hands around our communion table, where Jesus himself holds out open arms of invitation to all. To me, that’s a powerful image of what it means to be church.

But at Mercy, we believe there is more to the call to be church. Imagine you are operating a camera in a movie, and what we have just described is a close-up, focused on Jesus and then slowly moving out to see the crowd that is coming from every direction to gather around him. Now imagine the script directions are for the same camera to pan outward, moving away from Jesus so that we can now see where he and the group around him is situated in the broader landscape. Jesus and the people who stand with him are seemingly at the edge of this bigger picture.

Jesus goes to the margins—what Pope Francis calls the ‘peripheries’ or we just called the ‘edge’—in order to show he is the center of all things. And unless we go there, following him where he chooses to be in our world, we cannot be held together. We certainly cannot be held together as church in any real sense, and perhaps not even as any kind of authentic expression of human togetherness at all. I honestly believe any other way of forming human community will eventually disintegrate into little more than a barely disguised defense against our deepest fears of chaos.

Our use of the language of ‘we’ at Mercy surprises others. But I don’t think it is because a group of people feel a shared sense of community. That’s unexceptional, in and of itself. I believe it is because this particular group of people have the audacity feel it. We have crossed long-held lines to get to where Jesus has called us. These are the lines that separate folks who live under a roof from those who live on the streets. These are the lines that continue to segregate children of God on the basis of the color of their skin, or their nation of origin, or degree of education, or gender—or any of a thousand different lines of division we have devised for ourselves. But the lines that once divided us have now been redrawn into the sign of the cross, binding us all together. The world believes we are too different to ever become one community. But the truth is we have grown into a very non-traditional family, freely talking of one another as sisters and brothers—with an all-inclusive and liberating ‘we.’

Am I papering over the very real and sometimes exceedingly painful differences we still experience? Am I trying to force our rich and beautiful diversity into a bland, tasteless ‘melting pot’? I don’t think so. We are gloriously and dangerously diverse. Such is the true nature of the call of Jesus. But once gathered around him and led into genuine relationship with one another, we discover we are one. We are one in our brokenness and one in our beloved-ness, one as ‘sinners’ and one in our ‘call to be saints.’

This is the hard-earned grace of making a commitment to ten years of community. You might glimpse it, but you probably will not take it fully to heart on a week-long mission trip or in a summer ‘urban immersion.’ These are baptismal waters into which we are being plunged, and they require at least a lifetime to live out.

I don’t think there is anything new here. But there is something to see. Just flip through any Lives of the Saints. You will read, more often than not, the story of someone who discovers anew the life-changing love of God, and quite completely undone by it all, sets out in humble but very tangible ways to share in and perhaps in some small way to relieve the suffering of our sisters and brothers. The result is that often a small community is formed and the truly radical and revolutionary heart of the gospel is rediscovered once more.

At Mercy, we do not believe that we are the answer to every problem the church or the world faces. We are not so foolish as to think our way is new and novel or best or that history has been waiting on us. We are just following Jesus to where we sense that he is and trying to be church as he would want us to be. And, quite frankly, that is something to see.

Helping us to see is what this particular, special issue does best: it is packed with photos, pulled from across our ten years together. We have included a few favorite articles from previous issues. And there are new reflections, too—just to show that this celebration isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, no matter how wonderful the past has been. We are still moving ever onward, following the path down which Jesus is leading—in ways always new to us, always hopeful, always overflowing with mercy.

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.

A Bad Pray-er

By: Maggie Leonard

I have a confession to make.  For most of my life I have not been good at praying—I do not mean that I did not pray well, I mean that I did not pray.

During church service prayers I colored loudly (according to my parents).  I groaned and protested at going to youth group.

In college, I hid when asked to pray aloud at the campus ministry.

In seminary, there was no room for heart in my formal prayers, beautifully crafted words of hope that pointed to a carefully plotted theology of God’s promises.  ch51Moreover, I learned about spiritual formation and spiritual direction and thought it to be a boring practice for self-indulgent, lazy, and/or privileged people.  I knew that good Christians, and especially pastors, prayed, and I felt sort of bad that I did not, but there was too much to do and prayer felt trite.

When I was a chaplain at a local hospital, because it was my job, I prayed with people and asked for things—but never too much, just in case a healing was not in God’s plan, and carefully choosing my words so not to offend my own theology.

Yes.  I was a bad pray-er.

Or at least I was bad at what I thought it should look like.

When I first started at Mercy, we prayed unscripted prayers before meals and once during the Sunday service.  That was it; and it suited me just fine.  After a few months the hives I develped from having to pray without warning, on cue, and without specific theme, had almost started to disapate. We Presbyterians have prayers of confession, for illumination, of intercession, of Great Thanksgiving, before the offering, after the offering—each one separate and spoken at the appropriate time during the service.  When we first decided to switch the schedule and Chad suggested that we have an hour of prayer every time we met, I almost quit—or at least gave him a look of disbelief and skepticism.  To spend long periods of time in our little noisy church each day in prayer?  He must have gone crazy.

The hour was boring enough, but I had to act like it meant something to me, and I had to herd others who were equally uninterested  and skeptical into the room.  Together we started to explore the Psalms, the Rosary, “silence” (Chad playing music in the background, bags rustling, food being eaten), and Ignatius’ Examen—which I thought of as looking at the highs and lows of the day.  Most days, words felt empty and, if I were doing the Examen, I was so aware of my failures—when I spoke in a harsh voice, acted in spite, paid less attention to someone than they deserved, or took something personally that was not meant with ill-intent—that I forgot about grace.  Reviewing my day only brought guilt.

I prayed, like a good Christian, about once a year, and it was not while I was at Mercy.  I had a stirring in my soul when I journeyed to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to help facilitate conferences or retreats.  The worship services on those retreats always filled me and left me with a great energy and sense of peace.  The one time I journaled that year would be while there—in the quiet of that place, staring off into the expansive plains behind which majestic mountains and cliffs stood, I could see how God had been at work in my life that past year.

I always felt refreshed after my time in New Mexico, but, at best, that opportunity only came around once a year.  The other 360 days a year, I would try to calm my anxiety with action, doing something about the problem.  God was busy—and only helps those who help themselves—so it all depended on me, I thought.  My call was set before me; I already understood it, so I set to work.  I would return to herding at Mercy.  The fix was temporary, it was not sustainable, nor would my work be if I did not change something.  I had to find ways to incorporate what I did at Ghost Ranch in my everyday life—being unplugged, journaling, praying, silence, hiking, reflecting.  I realized that many of those things could be done at home.

I started hiking on Saturdays and realized that they were indeed walking prayers.  I read a chapter on a book of spirituality toward the beginning of my hike which gave me a framework for my thoughts. The processing I do, an opportunity to reflect on my week, allows me to imagine new ways of engaging old problems, and see where God has been at work.

I also found myself sitting in my bedroom, lighting a candle and meditating.  Perpetually, I am in my head—worrying, analyzing, dreaming.  Breath prayers became crucial for my sanity; a break from the business, a break from the anxiety, a break from the fear that I hold.  In those moments when I bring my attention to my breath and slow it down, I start to become aware of the energy in my body.

I recently visited a little house of prayer in south Georgia called Green Bough, excited to see a dear friend.  I was surprised to discover that I left not only with a full heart from seeing a kindred spirit, but also with an awakened sense of rhythm.  At Green Bough we prayed together multiple times a day—midmorning, evening, and night—and I also had short devotions by myself first thing in the morning and last thing before bed.  Upon returning home, I yearned for those moments of communal quiet and the rhythm of stopping to appreciate what God was doing that day.  I actually wanted to come back and pray at, with, and for Mercy.  I wanted to make a regular and nightly ritual of prayer and remembrance.

The funny thing is, when one starts to feel the rhythm of prayer, its hard not to discount where prayer is.  I may have been bad at praying the way I though prayer was supposed to look—mountain-top experiences every day—but I was, by no means, a stranger to prayer.

Maybe there was prayer in those early years too.  Toward the end of high school, my heart would flutter at certain scripture passages, and I found myself stirred when reading the word “BEHOLD!”

While in campus ministry, I found myself more confident in myself than ever before and love just seemed to pour out of me in all kinds of wholesome directions.  I also started to see the scriptures in an unfamiliar light and became curious and excited to put into action the new challenges I heard.  Faith started to have real life consequences.

During my volunteer year in Guatemala, I wept.  And I cried.  And I boo-hooed.  And I was broken beyond words.  And I was lonely.  And I had a hardened heart.  And I felt rigid.  And I was loved. And I was sung to.  And I had to try and listen because I didn’t know how to speak.  And I softened.  And I learned.  And I laughed. And I loved.

In seminary, I learned that my emotions were okay, even good, and that I did not have to stifle or apologize for them.  I learned my limits and was liberated by the realization that saving the world did not depend on me—God was at work!

While I was at the hospital and miserable, I clung to my yoga practice.  I learned about grace and flexibility and breathing and process and gained an appreciation for silence.

I suppose the softening of our hearts takes time.  As we get older, I think we also come to appreciate more our humanness, our limitations—not just that we are mortal and therefore must be careful, but that we cannot and should not think that we have to do it all.  It is only in being aware of our limitations that we can truly be forgiving of the limitations of others.

I have heard it said that we are not human beings trying to become more spiritual, but that we are spiritual beings trying to become more human.  I think this to be true.  Our flaws present us with opportunities for us to grow, a reason to offer grace to others—they are just as broken as we are— and to turn to God because God is working in a much bigger way than we can imagine.

At Mercy, we talk constantly about process.  Praying is not about arriving somewhere.  It is about being truly present to the moment in which we find ourselves.  It is about understanding our motivations—especially our fears and insecurities—so that we might respond in a less reactionary way.  It is about sitting quietly and listening, that we might put our worries aside for a few moments and sense God’s comfort and call on our lives.  All in all, we find the opportunity to be more human, more loving, and to open ourselves to true growth and transformation.  Now, when I neglect the rhythm of prayer and meditation in my life, I miss it.

I now see how broken and perfect my prayers have been.

Dante’s Baptism

By: Megan Hodges

Surrounded by all of God’s followers

Dante Evan Weaver was welcomed John, Magee, Dante

with open arms and open hearts.

Drop by drop,

water gently touched Dante’s head

as he was blessed in the name

of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is as if we saw God’s Word

in the pure water dripping

on Dante’s face:

grace,

forgiveness,

love.

The joyous  community gathered around the little table

and welcomed Dante into

the Mercy community.

Everyone was able to witness

God’s love at Mercy’s first baptism.

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!

Listen, Picture, Pop

By: Lynda Baker

It’s Friday: time for good old Lectio Divina—my new favorite way of studying God’s word!  Lectio Divina is a way of praying and listening for what God has to say to us that has deep roots within the church.  At Mercy, we use it to help us study the Bible and get firmly rooted in a passage.

When we study this way, I do not know what passage has been chosen for the Bible study.  In part, this is done because many of us like to read along.  Instead, we are encouraged to listen, at least for the first two of the three times we read the passage.  When we listen to words, instead of reading them, we process the information IMG_4981differently, new ideas stand out to us.  I settle back and listen to God, pretending this is the first time I have heard it.

The first time we read the passage, we are invited to notice one word without any additional comments.  I am like a shallow swimmer, floating at the deep end of the pool.  Lectio helps me to dig—or swim—deeper, especially when I don’t know the context of the passage.  I like to picture the passage as it is read.  When it is “the word” for me, its picture takes me over, and it is all I see.  It just seems to pop out!

We read the passage again—or rather, it is read to us again.  After a brief silence, we again share, this time a phrase taken directly from the scriptures.  This time it is like I am bobbing on the surface of the pool, sometimes dunking underwater, fully wet.  I just listen, picture, and pop—again!

As we look at the board where our words and phrases are listed, as a community we start to see the movement of the larger picture.  Or if multiple people share the same word or phrase, we can see where God is directing the attention of the church.

Together we read, not just listen to, the passage one final time.  This time the book, chapter, and verses are announced.  We are encouraged to consider the “so what?” of the passage—our own questions and where we feel like our lives connect to the passage.  I share with the rest of the church what God has been speaking to me in the passage and have the opportunity to hear the experiences of my fellow community members.  I finally dive into the deep, cool waters of the swimming pool, surrounded by God’s word and grace.   That’s why we have come to love Lectio Divina in our community!

Banned

By: Dwayne Brooks

About a year ago, I was banned from Mercy because I acted aggressively toward someone who was upset with me.  We started to argue and things escalated—neither of us could control our temper so our time away from the community escalated too.  One week became one month, became six months, as we couldn’t quiet down.  “Make it a year, three years, forever!” I baited the pastors.  Six months is the one that stuck.Dwayne Brooks BW Photo-Martin

At first getting banned did not matter—I was mad and didn’t want to be at Mercy anyway.  It took me a while for the consequences of my actions to sink in.  I’ve had arguments with other people before, but this was the first time that I was banned for a substantial amount of time.  After a week or so I felt that I had let myself down both by my reaction and how I carried myself.

I continued on with my work but knowing I could not go to Mercy left an empty space in me.  I kept popping up at Mercy, even though I was not supposed to, because I had nothing to lose—I was already banned.

Recently, I was banned again, this time for a month.  Instead of coming around during that month, I stayed away.  I knew that I would be able to come back more quickly if I showed that I could respect boundaries.  When I am away from Mercy I miss it.  I enjoy the singing which helps relax my mind.  And I find that the Bible studies build up my spirit.

Losing my temper has not been helping me to be who I want to be or to interact with others the way I think I should.  While I was away from Mercy I had the chance to take an inventory of myself and really think about how I react to things, especially where I am in denial about my actions.  I watch my surroundings and take it all in.  I see lots of things, lots of violence, lots of people treating each other poorly.  When I am mad, I frequently try to suppress it until one day, everything that I have been holding in comes out.   At that point it doesn’t matter who I hurt—the water must boil, the ball must unravel.  I need a release.

I am learning how to control my temper a little better, though I still have a long way to go.  I need Mercy in that way; it is difficult to try and change my attitude when I am alone.  I have started talking about some of the things that are on my mind—expressing myself rather than holding things back.  I have found that it really helps me to express what is on my mind either to one of my pastors, my mother, or my Higher Power.  I feel better and more relaxed when I express myself, as if a hard ball in my stomach deflates.

It is a process, as we say.  But it is good work, and I’m proud of the progress I have made.