This past Wednesday, deeply troubling events in our nation called our attention away from the Feast of Epiphany. And yet, Epiphany it was. Epiphany is a feast that celebrates the light of God that shines in the deep shadows of our brokenness and our jagged ways of treating one another, illuminating a way forward. The Gospel for the day throws into sharp relief the story of a tyrannical and violent king who would hold onto power at all costs—and a poor family on the run from his political terror, a family who guarded the safety of a different, liberating kind of servant leader. It is a feast of welcome and inclusion, offering a vision of human community that comes together around the child who shall lead us—rather than pulling apart and destroying itself. In our worship service this past Wednesday, we read the psalm appointed for the day, which describes the true measure of a leader—one who ‘saves the lives of those who are in need’ and ‘redeems their lives from oppression and violence’ (Psalm 72.13,14).
Let Us Be The Ones Who Join The Work To Redeem Our World From Oppression And Violence
As we close our Advent and Christmas season, a time that we have studied and prayed together, let us not put aside the truth of Christmas like so many decorations to be un-hung or ornaments to be packed away until next year. Let us not only remember God’s call to change our hearts and our lives, as John proclaims at the beginning of Advent, but let us find the strength together to live in such a way each day. Let us not lose the eyes that have come to see that Christ comes to us not once, not twice, but every day—in the guise of the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Let us ‘save the lives of those in need.’ Let us be the ones who join the work to redeem our world from oppression and violence. And let us never forget that this light of love and liberation still shines in a darkness that can neither overwhelm nor overcome it.
Bet you never thought you would live through an apocalypse, did you? Welcome to 2020, y’all. From the perspective of the church calendar, Advent kicks off a new year. And it happens while we’re still trudging our way through the old. It’s as if God’s people are invited to become divinely out-of-synch. The realities that have come surging over the banks—a global pandemic, persisting racism, political polarization—won’t simply recede because the clock ticks midnight on New Year’s Eve. Things will only change because we choose to change them. And that’s God’s subversive invitation to us.
At a time when so many of our churches have chosen—for sound public health reasons—to close the doors on traditional worship, might we imagine worship more broadly? What if worship was a little more Isaiah 58—a down-to-earth practice where we empower and embody more just and inclusive communities that could transcend the divisions that beset us? That would mean literally making room for those who cannot shelter-in-place because they have no place to shelter. It would mean creatively organizing our congregations to share food, clothing, running water, and rental assistance—things we should have already been doing, if we’re honest. Now is the time to make a new time for our world. Disruption of old patterns can embolden new ways of being together. But we can’t limit our creative vision to fashioning online content.
The Advent Event itself shows us the way: God comes to us as a poor and homeless child who quickly becomes a refugee on the run with his parents. Is this not where we can still find God at work? I believe with everything within me it is. God is always to be found, graciously at work on the margins, close to suffering, in the broken places. We must creatively reimagine church as a liberating, grassroots community that makes sharing our bread with our hungry neighbors as essential to true and vital worship as sharing the bread of the Eucharist with one another. A new Advent is upon us. Let us fearlessly embrace it.
Prayer God of Advent, help us to see in our troubled times that now is always your liberating time. May our broken status-quo lead us to reorder our worship as justice for our neighbors.
Chad is pastor and founder of Mercy Community Church, a grassroots community of worship and action—a group of people who believe Jesus wants the hungry fed, strangers welcomed, and every child of God housed.
Originally from North Carolina, in the fall of 1986, he made the move to Atlanta to attend Emory University. Following graduation, Chad enrolled in Candler School of Theology, graduating with a Masters of Divinity in 1993. That same year, Chad was ordained and began to serve as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta.
Chad and his wife Camille began Mercy Community Church in August, 2005. A small circle of friends gathered for simple worship, sensing a call to begin an intentional community in a congregational form with an unmistakable preferential option for the poor at the heart of its worship and life. Today Mercy makes it home on the campus of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, serving meals, sharing clothes, talking about the Bible, welcoming strangers, and trying to build a diverse and faithful community with over a hundred people a day, five days a week.
Chad is an Associate of the Missionaries of the Poor, a Catholic religious order that embodies a daily commitment to the spirituality of Matthew 25. He and Camille and their two sons, Matthew and Levi, live in Scottdale, Georgia
Brittany grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas. She first learned about God and what it means to be a church community that loves and cares for one another from First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, AR. Brittany graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. After teaching abroad and working for a travel company, Brittany began her studies at Columbia Theological Seminary, taking steps to answer a call to ministry that she had felt since her childhood. Upon moving to Atlanta, Brittany’s passion for being present with those on the margins led her to volunteer at Peachtree and Pine’s Taskforce for the Homeless and to become a pastoral intern with Mercy Church. After completing her MDiv at Columbia, Brittany began a PhD program at Emory University, but left to answer God’s call on her life to full-time ministry as a pastor to our community. Brittany was jointly ordained by the PC(USA) and Mercy Community Church in 2018. Outside of Mercy, what gives Brittany life and joy is spending time with her husband Cooper and daughter Emi, traveling via plane, train, and foot, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and nerding out over Karl Barth.
Holly grew up in Ocala, Florida where she was nurtured by her faith community and encouraged to find ways to be a leader in the community. Holly graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in Psychology. After a period of discernment, she was called to a church community in Lady Lake, Florida where she served as the Youth Director for over six years. She began her seminary career in 2014 at Columbia Theological Seminary where she earned her Masters of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theological (Pastoral Care). During her time in seminary, Holly began attending Mercy Community Church where she fell in love with the community. Upon graduation, Holly served for two years as a Chaplain Resident at Grady Memorial Hospital and specialized in pastoral care through the lens of behavioral health.
In her free time, Holly loves to exercise, travel, spend time with her family, read, and organize.
In May of 2020 Mercy Community Church ordained Pastor Maurice Lattimore to ministry in his own organization, Feet on the Streets Ministries. Before and throughout the pandemic Pastor Lattimore has worked alongside the other Mercy pastors to care for our community through his Empowerment and Recovery groups, pastoral care, and by connecting people to invaluable resources. He continues to serve and support the Mercy community while also pastoring his own community and creatively and compassionately supporting those experiencing homelessness across the city with showers, community, empowerment, and the love of Christ. Mercy is thankful for Pastor Lattimore’s partnership with Mercy as well as his own faithful work—here is Pastor Lattimore’s story:
My name is Maurice Lattimore and I'm a 62 year Black man and native of Atlanta Georgia, I'm the oldest of five siblings and the last one standing, and I'm the one that did it all wrong. I was raised in the projects during some very racist and discriminating times. With the bias that developed in me during those times I quickly got off to a bad start. I was 12 years old when I did my first piece of real drug, and from that point the next 35 years of my life were like a rollercoaster of drugs, incarceration, and eventually homelessness. What a vicious cycle! A change of events did come about in 2004 in Phoenix Arizona in a jail cell--I found Christ, Amen! The best and freest years of my life until then were lived in that prison. This is what accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior did for me. Today I am in the life of my daughter and my grandchildren, and God saw fit to give me a wife. At the ministry that God has entrusted me with, Feet on the Streets Ministries, as well as here at Mercy Church, today I get and give service to a community of brothers and sisters whose lives I can identify with on a personal level. Glory be to God the father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ forever and ever Amen!