Luke 14:13-14 “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (NIV)
When I first met Brian Merritt, I knew that I liked him. Theologically, we were poles apart and had traveled different routes in Presbyterian ministry. I was a typical church pastor who had spent much of my career looking after congregations, preaching the Word of God, and trying to care for church members. Brian was out there on the streets of New York, protesting against injustice and being a burr under the saddle to both church and community. Despite our differences, however, we were both passionate about ministry and Christ’s mission to the world. It was that similarity which sealed our friendship.
Brian started a mission in Chattanooga called ‘Mercy Junction,’ which ministers to people on the margins of society. It’s not your typical church mission either. It involves a lot of risks, especially with people who have been broken or damaged by the mainstream church. The St. Andrews Center in Chattanooga, where a federation of inter-faith groups connect and meet, is where Mercy Junction resides. The Center has become a sanctuary for the homeless, a place of safety for marginalized people, a feeding place for the hungry, and even a shelter for abandoned dogs. Its mission goes where most churches drawback and retreat from; its focus is Christ inspired and humane.
This kind of ministry depletes the energy of its leaders very often. Brian and the other leaders have constantly emptied themselves through giving to, advocating for, and supporting the powerless. The area of Chattanooga where they minister does not have a lot of resources; quite recently, the last grocery store in the area closed leaving local people with the hardship of traveling further for everyday needs, food, and other items. The Mercy Junction leaders set up a food distribution bank and are politically advocating the city for more help. All of this requires time, energy, and resources leaving the Center stretched almost beyond its own capabilities.
This week the Center has been through a lot of turmoil due to a major disturbance caused by a couple of misguided people. The Center has had to close until the situation can be rectified. This is very distressing for Brian and the rest of the leadership because it means that vulnerable people are being turned away with only a little help. You can read about the situation from this press report: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2017/may/18/church-leaders-occupy-mercy-junction-forcing/428716/
Ministering to the marginalized is never easy, otherwise, all churches and congregations would do it. Mercy Junction is in need of prayer, as well as resources to keep it open because this sort of negative publicity diminishes the mission and depletes the means by which the Center can be sustained. So, please be in prayer for Brian Merritt, Beth Foster, and the other leaders at Mercy Junction. If you can also give an online gift to help, then please do so at this link: http://www.mercyjunction.org/
As I wrote above, Brian and I are poles apart theologically and as different ministerially as chalk from cheese, but I admire his courage, dedication, and passion for the marginalized and powerless, which is why I personally support his work and mission, for even though I may not often understand it, I believe it is a part of Christ’s crucial work in that city.
Point to ponder
Who are the marginalized in our community? How can our churches reach out and help them?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You were often accused of being in bad company and feasting with sinners. Your ministry was disturbing and radical to the leaders in Your own community. Help us not to be afraid of our differences, but to look beyond them, in order to see the lonely, broken, powerless, and marginalized who need our understanding and embrace. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can read the church’s website at www.erinpresbyterian.org.
Today’s image is one of John’s Good Friday drawings called ‘Powerless.’ If you would like to view a larger version, click this link: Powerless.