Shades of Grace
The red brick storefront at 313 E. Sullivan Street in Kingsport, Tennessee, doesn’t look much like a place of worship. But make no mistake: All kinds of church are happening inside this century-old, 5,000-square-foot building, the kind of ministry that spills out the doors and attracts others’ attention as it makes its way across town.
Folks at Shades of Grace United Methodist Church are among those United Methodists globally who engage in a theology that has echoed through the decades in The United Methodist Church's rich tradition of mission. They welcome strangers, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick and listen and befriend those people who find themselves on the margins.
“We’re seeing with our Jesus eyes,” says Dr. Joe Smiddy, a Shades of Grace UMC church member. “We are proceeding with the assumption that everyone can make a small step,” Smiddy shares. “Whether it’s substances, faith, mental illness, or loneliness, we can take their arm and help them to take a small step. And those small steps can lead to larger steps.”
Smiddy, now a retired physician, volunteers five days a week at Shades of Grace UMC, often connecting people with medical services, helping make and serve meals and finding homes and jobs for people who need them. “I jump up, kick the sheets off every morning and say, ‘Lord, what are we doing today?’ Why would I go play golf? Why would I go fishing? Where else would I be but at Shades of Grace?” Smiddy asks enthusiastically.
As Shades of Grace UMC, now in its ninth year as a church plant in the Holston Conference, has served its neighbors, others have joined in. The city’s police department is a strong partner, picking up items to keep in their vehicles to share with those they might encounter. The City of Kingsport hired a licensed social worker, a liaison between the area’s underserved population and the government and community resources who works closely with the church. And 65 regional churches partner with Shades of Grace UMC by providing funds, food, and other items. One local church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, donated burial plots to bury people who don’t have someone to bury them. To-date, Shades of Grace UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Will Shewey, has performed more than 100 funerals for “the unclaimed.”
“Dumbfounded” is how Steve Wells, lay leader and founding church member, says he often feels when seeing how God works at Shades of Grace UMC. “There are times when I’m in the kitchen making sandwiches using hot dog buns and I’ll say, ‘Lord, I wish we had a few loaves of bread’ and somebody knocks on the door and comes in with six loaves of bread,” he recounts.
“The miracles that happen – and they are miracles,” Wells emphasizes. “When you pray for something, and it happens, and you see it...I truly see God at work.”
Crystal Caviness, United Methodist Communications