August 27, 2020
As the people lined up for their breakfast this morning in an alley, Shades of Grace United Methodist Church quietly celebrated 10,000 meals served since the pandemic became a reality in Kingsport, Tennessee.
“We’ve never missed a single day of serving,” said the Rev. Will Shewey, even though COVID-19 forced Shades of Grace to completely change the way it does ministry, to prevent virus spread.
Instead of providing a hot meal from a full serving line inside the building, Shades of Grace immediately went to providing brown-bag meals in an alley behind its downtown building. The safety guidelines enforced by Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church also changed or suspended many of Shades of Grace’s high-contact ministries.
However, the meals have kept on coming, rain or shine, six days a week, for 40 to 100 people daily. Shades of Grace’s congregation members typically struggle with not only hunger but homelessness and addiction.
“The abundance of God sometimes strains our ability,” says Rex Hill, a full-time volunteer charged with keeping the food coming.
What he means is that Shades of Grace experiences a manna miracle nearly every day, when ministry leaders will make note of a particular need (size 13 shoes for a client, ball caps on a hot day, cookware for a new home), and a generous spirit will soon walk in the door with the perfect, needs-fulfilling donation. The stories are well documented on Pastor Will’s Facebook page.
For Rex, that means coming up with nutritious, portable meals using food gifts that often have a shelf life.
“It shows up in such a timely manner that we’re almost afraid to pray out loud,” he says.
For instance, Rex recently noticed the kitchen was running low on eggs and pondered on that a moment. Sure enough, a donation of 60 dozen eggs showed up that afternoon.
“After we found a way to store all those eggs and to keep them cold, a car shows up with 25 more dozen eggs to donate … Open the flood gates and there it is.”
Rex uses his experience as a pastor and food-service worker to create delicious meals in a prayerful setting for the people served by Shades of Grace. Today, the 10,000th meal included a hashbrown casserole made with freshly grated potatoes (from a large produce donation), combined with corned beef and topped with cheese. Every meal also includes fruit and a dessert.
Next week, Rex is considering a “burrito in a cup” using a donation of flour tortillas, salsa, veggies, and meat. Tomorrow’s meal is scheduled to be homemade oatmeal with the fixings and a hard-boiled egg.
However, all that could change if somebody calls to say they’ve got fried chicken available from a canceled reunion, or a church group suddenly wants to deliver a load of fresh sandwiches.
The trick is to be flexible because Rex is called to be, and because he is grateful for the generosity of others.
“I will try to map out a real menu, and God almost always has a slightly different direction or will throw me a wild curve ball,” Rex said.
Every Monday through Friday meal (10 a.m. to 11 a.m.) is preceded by a brief devotion and prayer. On Sunday afternoon, the alleyway food pick-up area becomes the site of a short worship service with a simple altar table.
“There’s always a passion and love to create that meal,” says Rex, who also shows creativity in sharing scripture with his mealtime guests:
The Holy Spirit nudges people every day to join with this ministry. Jesus prophesied to his followers – and to us – the poor you have with you always. (Even the poor in Spirit.)
In that prophecy is a promise: We share miraculous resources to show compassion to the least, last, lost, and lonely.
You may reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.