One of the things I knew would be very different about serving at Grace from my most recent work at St. James Greenville, and at Furman, would be the many encounters with people on the street, and with people who came by the church looking for help. At St. James, we had a few regulars–people who would come by looking for financial support every six months or so–which was the limit we placed on such help. We also dealt with “cold-callers,” people who phoned every church in the Yellow Pages, until they got a positive response. What we didn’t get, or very often at least, were people who just dropped in because they were in the area.
That’s not true at Grace. There’s a constant stream of people coming to the door, looking for help. We’ve got a relationship with a social service agency who screens our requests for us, but still there are people who will show for help on a regular basis. Usually, such requests are simply routine–they need money for a bus ticket, for a utility bill, or for gas. But sometimes, the requests, and the stories behind them are remarkable. And sometimes, people come to Grace, not because they need financial help, but because there’s nowhere to turn.
We’ve had a couple of the latter in the past few weeks, and watching how Grace’s members respond in situations like this is amazing. One African-American family, whose story included both 9-11 in Manhattan AND Katrina, ended up at Grace looking for food. In the few weeks since they first visited, they have been welcomed in, embraced, and have pitched in. Now, the parents have jobs, they’ve moved from a shelter into an apartment, and things seem to be normalizing.
One recent Sunday after services, a parishioner encountered a woman trying to find a way into the church. It turns out she and her husband were visiting from the west coast, and he had a major medical emergency while in Madison. He was in ICU and the prognosis wasn’t clear. She’s been taken in, quite literally, by members of Grace, cared for and helped along the way.
The point is, if Grace weren’t where it is, neither of those encounters would have taken place. Our location can be a burden at times (especially when the square is closed off for an event), but we are in a unique place to do ministry and mission. People come to us; and our only response can be to welcome them in. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Grace so far is how welcoming the people of Grace are to almost anyone who comes in our doors.