“Today I thank God for second chances.” -Eli, 8 years old
At a time when the very bottom fell out of the bottom in my life, I grabbed for the phone book and went in search of a church…any church…with something called a “Stephen’s Ministry.” (A special lay-led ministry designed to help those going through a tough season in life.) Thumbing through the yellow pages (remember those?), I landed on some place called Edenton Street United Methodist Church. I called the office, and after explaining my situation, a lady on the phone said something like, “Oh my, I think you might need to speak to the director, Pastor Kay Johnson.”
In my mind I heard over a blaring loudspeaker, “Cleanup on aisle seven please! I repeat! Code blue! Huge mess on aisle seven. Manager’s help needed!”
After a long face to face meeting with the Rev. she said, “Oh, Stefan, God’s not done with you yet. Some church will have a place for you. He gives second chances all the time.” She then grabbed a business card, jotted down a number and said, “Here, call this number.” (I did, with no luck.) I left her office with a glimpse of hope and clinging to a mustard seed of faith that I might one day be used by God again, scars and all. She had no idea that “some church” would soon be her church.
Fast forward a year, and ironically, after hearing I was out of the ministry and had returned to teaching in the public school system, Jonathan Jeffries, a pastor at the same church invited me to check them out. I did.
One hundred forty people sparsely filled the front of the room that morning. Tables filled the back of the hall where kids would feel free to color and, well— just feel free. (Who wouldn’t want that?) Small beginnings. Who knew this church would become a conduit of the grace of God to me. Couriers of second chances. (Worth a listen)
Recently an email I received called those days “The Miracle at Kerr Hall.” It read, “We saw the magnificent transformation of a group of ‘broken, disheartened, unknowledgeable, sinners, holy, misfits and knowledgeable Christians.’ What made us converge at The Gathering was the welcoming, non-judgmental, inclusive, forgiving, unpretentious, non-threatening environment where the broken could come to be healed, the sinner to seek forgiveness, the stinky to be embraced, the homeless to get spiritual shelter, and where rich and pauper were one!” We studied a book back then called “Messy Spirituality,” and the untamed, undomesticated, untidy, and downright unpolished faith it offered spilled into our Kerr Hall services and permeated our everyday lives.
Another one of the men from those early days, whom I still meet with in a group each Saturday, summed up the “second chances” idea perfectly, when after a joint confession time where I spilled details of my past, simply replied, “I DON’T CARE.” Now, that’s a real friend and real grace.
Today, there are no room for tables, the one service is two, and soon to be three. Now I’m the one with the blessing of carrying my own granddaughter, London, to the back, letting her feel free to grab a few pieces of crayon or chalk and to— just feel free. Thank you, Eli, for reminding me to thank God for second chances. Thank you, London, for helping me to stay on my knees…and play. And thank you, God for Your promise that He who the Son sets free is free indeed…gratuitously pardoned, and eternally kept.
There’s no place like HOPE,