Part 1 of a series: Listen That You May Live
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (March 8, 2017) -- Will Shewey’s Facebook posts will mess you up. They offer a wrenching glimpse into a downtown ministry where violence and sleeping on the street are normal and the miracles of God’s grace are revealed every day.
Lately, the Rev. Shewey’s online posts have cried out for someone – the city, the church, anyone – to react to the epidemic of drug addiction. In 2014, Shewey created this United Methodist mission, Shades of Grace, with a determination to reach the last, lost, least and lonely. “I had no idea we would be so steeped in the homeless population,” he said later.
Now, Shewey finds himself also steeped in the addicted population.
“Most people who are here have been hit by addictions,” he says. “They know firsthand the tragedies.”
As he spoke on a warm Friday afternoon, a woman in her 20s with soiled jeans appeared at the Shades of Grace door. She said she had just been released from the hospital. She wanted a shower, a place to stay, a cellphone picture of the art in the room. She repeated her requests as if she had forgotten she already asked.
“She’s high on something, and she doesn’t have a wristband so I don’t think she came from the hospital,” Shewey said. She doesn’t have identification, so she won’t be allowed to sleep in the shelters tonight. As a female, she will be especially vulnerable to harm on the street.
Shades of Grace has about 200 people coming through its doors every day, including 60 to 100 for breakfast five days a week and 140 for lunch followed by worship on Sundays.
Shewey estimates that 98 percent are dealing with some kind of addiction -- only 10 percent alcohol related.
“Pills, meth, crack, heroin, gravel, Subutex … A lot of it is innocent. Doctors are too easy to prescribe, and they get addicted. It’s like a demon they can’t turn loose of.”
Kingsport has logged three drug-related murders since Jan. 1. "We were acquainted with these victims," Shewey says. His Facebook page is graphic in details, but not nearly as graphic as what the pastor and his congregation see and hear on the streets.
“It’s everywhere, in every congregation. Part of the problem is that we ignore it. … The battle is real and it’s not going away. We can’t fix it but through faith.”
Shades of Grace fights away at the black cloud by offering food, clothing, classes, foot care, a place to rest and worship with friends. At the end of each day, Shewey lifts up a story of a size 17 pair of shoes donated within moments of the discovered need … or an angelic song of praise lifted up by a worshipper who days earlier had been shot in the throat with a gun.
Shewey and his volunteers like to say Shades of Grace is “God’s living room.” He recently heard a congregant describe it as the “last stop to see Jesus.”
“The story doesn’t always end up happy but the story isn’t over yet,” Shewey said. “In the midst of sadness and pain, we know we are being the hands and feet of Jesus. We know that.”
"Shades of Grace: New church with curious name discovers forgotten community" (The Call, 5.25.15)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.