KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- The band walked to the front of the fellowship hall at Mafair United Methodist Church and positioned themselves behind their instruments. The drummer looked out at the 78 people gathered and said:
“Well, praise the Lord. Guess we’ve got a new church going.”
The crowd applauded, and on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 3, a new United Methodist congregation named “Shades of Grace” worshiped together for the first time.
Starting a new church has been the Rev. Will Shewey's “burning desire” for eight years, a desire he believes was “Holy Spirit directed,” the pastor told the congregation.
“This will be an inclusive church. None will be denied,” said Shewey. “We want to partner in ministry with the last, the least, the lost and the lonely. This will be church for everyone.”
In recent weeks, Shewey invited several people without church homes to join him in worship, which will be held at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Mafair UMC offered their fellowship hall until a permanent home can be located.
“We hope to locate more downtown, away from traditional church [locations],” Shewey said. “However, Mafair is very gracious and does not cost anything to us.”
The new congregation took an offering of $5,000 during their first worship.
The name “Shades of Grace” evolved from an experience Shewey had last year as he felt the Lord leading him to begin a new church, the pastor revealed on his Facebook page.
“One afternoon I was driving through a thunderstorm, meditating about what all this involved, and a beautiful double rainbow emerged before me,” he said. “In my soul I heard a still small voice that simply said, ‘shades of grace.’”
Shewey drew applause when he told worshipers that Shades of Grace would not have the “cliques” or exclusive groups that exist in some churches. “Sometimes we think that if we were there first, we have a little bit of seniority … This is not going to be the case here.”
Shewey said the new congregation is not yet chartered but a “mission congregation.” He encouraged worshipers to invite others to join them. “This ministry will be effective as you are effective,” he said.
A former Pentecostal Holiness pastor, Shewey started two new churches in Florida during the 1970s and 1980s, winning an award for leading the fastest-growing church in his denomination. He joined the United Methodist Church in 1994 and has since served the New River Circuit in Wytheville District, Hiltons Memorial UMC in Big Stone Gap District, and Salem UMC in Kingsport District.
Shewey received the Denman Evangelism Award from the Holston Annual Conference in 2006.
See also: "Will Shewey: A Winner in Evangelism" The Call, 3/9/07