Reflection: v. 16 ‘Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety’
‘In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.’ I must confess that I have negative connotations with talk of ‘safety’ because this word is so often used as a weapon against my community. Our beloved church has many members who are poor. Some are without shelter and live on the streets and in the parks of our neighborhoods. Many of our members are people of color. Some of our members struggle with particular mental health concerns. By these standards many people that our community crosses paths with label our gatherings and worship services as ‘unsafe’ to have around. Our church is a ‘safety concern.’ Our joyful make-shift space of hospitality, comfort, creation, and care, this loving atmosphere where I bring my own four year old daughter to laugh and play and grow up, is labeled ‘unsafe’ merely because of who is gathered there. ‘It isn’t safe,’ our rich neighbors cry, as they hunker down in large warm homes. Such calls for ‘safety’ are often the thinly veiled threats of classism, racism, and privilege. For I ask you, who is not safe in this scenario? If the best place to sleep at night is under the awning of a church because it offers some protection from the rain, who is not safe? If the concrete on the backside of a church parking lot offers the most stability available to you at the time, who is not safe? If you sleep in a park and are constantly harassed by law enforcement and over-eager vigilantes, who is not safe? This Advent season I pray for the God who brings justice and I pray that my community members may live in the safety that the people of God deserve.
Prayer God who cares for us, guide us to make safe spaces for one another instead of fearing our neighbor.
Reflection: v. 3, ‘praise him, all you shining stars’
My name is Johnny Morgan. I’m 65 years old, and I pray to the Lord. I pray every night. This passage reminds us to praise God. In my prayers, I like to thank the Lord. When I pray, I look at the stars at night, and I thank God. I have something to be thankful for—I might not be rich, I might not be where I want to be in life, but I know that God is with me. I thank God for the people that surround me, and I thank God for the love they show me. I thank God for the life he has given me. My Momma always said, ‘Hold onto God; keep praying and hold on.’ God meets my needs. Mercy Church has given me food and a place to stay, and I pray every night for these people. I praise God. I have had to learn a lot. God had to lead me away from certain people, places, and things, and get my life going. And I can see that, and I can show love now to everyone. I know the Holy Spirit is beginning to work through me, and I pray that I can feel good about it.
Prayer Holy Spirit, help us to feel good about the ways you are leading us!
Reflection: v. 13,‘a new earth, where righteousness is at home’
In its closing exhortations, the Second Letter of Peter paints an image of waiting with anticipation for the coming of the day of God and the promise of new heavens and a new earth. This imagery is similar to that used in the book of Revelation—the hopeful vision of all things being made new and right, a new earth wherein right-ness can find its abode. As I write this today (still one week before our next election), it is difficult to even dream of an earth where righteousness is at home. A vicious plague goes unchecked, powers and principalities, sworn to protect, instead endanger our basic human rights, wars rage, fires burn, families are wrenched apart, and our earth cries out under the pressures of climate change. Even within my own small sphere of influence in the community where I serve, I feel the dead and heavy weight of tomorrow’s promised thunderstorms and the growing discomfort of privileged neighbors who would rather our community gather anywhere else but within their sight. But though right now it seems near impossible to dare to dream of something better, Peter’s words to these fellow Christ-followers remind me that I must. And in that hopeful vision of a world made more righteous, I remember that that is indeed what my God desires for us. I remember that my God is steadfast, that my God stands on the side of justice, that my God loves flesh and blood human beings and will not neglect us. I remember that there will be better days, and I want to be a part of God’s work to create them.
Prayer We hope for better days, O Lord–help us to create them.
By: Chad Hyatt John 20:1-18 Reflection—v. 18 ‘I have seen the Lord’
The resurrection changes everything. It’s earth-shattering, world-upending, and cosmostransforming. But in that oddly paradoxical way that the gospel holds truth together, it is also human-sized. It fits in our hands. It guides our feet. It opens our eyes. In John’s telling, the ‘other disciple’ who outran Peter sees an empty tomb and discarded grave clothes, and he somehow ‘believes.’ But John is quick to add that as yet the community did not ‘understand the scripture’ that a crucified messiah should rise from the dead. Everything changes because the resurrection empowers faith even as we stand at the door of a tomb and look at nothing but emptiness. The resurrection makes it possible for us to believe even when we do not yet understand. That doesn’t mean resurrection faith is unthinking or uncritical, refusing to reckon with our all too often wretched reality. Just ask Mary Magdalene. Her faithfulness brought her from the cross to the tomb, but she wasn’t looking for anything like the resurrection. Her faithfulness simply wouldn’t allow her to abandon Jesus, either in suffering or death—regardless of the very real risk to her own life of such open solidarity with an executed revolutionary. Even after Peter and the other disciple have come and gone from the tomb, she is still there, still grieving in her faith. And it is then, when the one she supposes a gardener and suspects a thief speaks her name, that her grief-stricken faithfulness becomes overjoyed faith full-ness. Last at the cross and first at the tomb, Mary Magdalene becomes the persistent preacher of a resurrection that changes everything. If the dead can be raised, is it really so hard for us to believe that the world could be changed, too?
Prayer Alleluia, sisters and brothers! Rejoice! Jesus is risen—he is risen indeed!
By: Steve Smith Romans 8:6-11 Reflection—v. 6 ‘to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.’
The spirit is the way you feel like God is with you in your heart. The spirit guides you to be more heart-full–not harmful, but heart-full. Being spiritual is a very healthy way, I believe, to live. If God is working through you, you’re doing God’s work. For me personally, God working through me looks like God not letting me get into physical conflicts. I stay out of jail. I haven’t been to jail in seven years now, and that’s because I changed my point of view on a lot of things. I used to fight in Little Five Points every day. What changed is that I quit getting into fights. When I left the navy, I was a control freak—I always wanted to fight the meanest person around and I did. I went to jail several times. I had to change that. I worked to clear the garbage out—it was a trashy way of thinking. It was a dark spell, but with Christ you get that little light, and then the Holy Spirit grabs you, and you think ‘Whoa! That’s never happened before!’ But it happens a lot now. It’s almost like a 6th sense–where most people have five senses, God becomes your sixth sense. It’s not perfect perception, but the spirit is a kind of perception from God and it helps you to understand and get right in your life instead of walking and thinking in shadows. I think it’s good for our community to study this type of scripture because we can relate to what we might need to change. That way it’s not erroneous, and we’re more intelligent–it makes us a stronger community to be bonded in scripture.
Prayer God, guide us by your spirit to walk in your light!
By: Maggie Leonard Ezekial 37:1-14 Reflection—v. 10 ‘the breath entered them, they came to life and stood’
Breath prayer was an ancient spiritual practice of the church. One of the earliest of these prayers was known as the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ wherein early practitioners would repeat ‘Jesus, son of God, have Mercy on me’ in rhythm with their breath. At Mercy, Chad turned this phrase into a beautiful sung prayer. I typically think of breath prayers as shorter prayers, one or two words in length, thought in concert with each inhalation and exhalation. I find that praying in this way slows me down, helping me to focus and find calm. Interestingly enough, research has shown that changing our breath can also affect our nervous system. When we are stressed out, the sympathetic part of the nervous system is activated (think, the flight, fright, or freeze response) and we get stuck in this space with a faster heart rate and more elevated blood pressure. It is difficult for the brain to switch back to calm after experiencing stress. However, it has been shown that by taking long slow exhales, we can convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even in the midst of stressful circumstances. Long slow exhales can literally bring us calm and clarity. This is the place from which we can make good decisions. This is the place where it can become clear what we should stand for. God’s Holy Spirit fills us with breath and brings us clarity. Through prayer, may we discern this Lenten season where and with whom God’s infusion of love calls us to stand.
Prayer (take a deep breath and slowly exhale) Loving God, give us calm and clarity.
By: Chad Hyatt Ephesians 3:1-12 Reflection—v. 10 ‘made known to the rulers and authorities’
As I write, I call to mind my community. I can see it, loud and brash and rowdy. I marvel at it, so compassionate and generous and forgiving. Truth be told, I am overwhelmed by my community, for we are painfully honest and undaunted by struggle and so very wonderfully human. There is no place I would rather be than with this people, just one among the many that make up this little flock of the followers of Jesus. Perhaps you have seen it, too, as you have prayed and reflected on Scripture with us through Advent and Christmas. And now it is Epiphany, a time for seeing, for the light has come to us. We are called to carry that light—the light of God that shines so deeply in our humanity because God has become one with us. Christ has bestowed upon all of us the gift of life in its marvelous fullness. Our vocation is to make this truth known to the powers that be—the ‘rulers and authorities,’ indeed every system and institution and ideology that seeks to hold sway over the hearts and minds of human beings. Here in a little basement off a back alley, huddled with those who are hungry for bread and hungry for justice, I can see and feel it, be encouraged by it and be overwhelmed by it. Because it is here that I see the church living the truth and truly making it known. My prayer is for every one of us, in every church and community, to shine so radiantly that our world may be awash in the glow of such ardent life.
Prayer: God of variegated wisdom, make known the joy of life and redeem us all.
By: Kevin Whitside Hebrews 2:10-13 Reflection—v.11 ‘not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters’
It’s clear that it’s not angels that Jesus helps, but people. Jesus was made like his brothers and sisters in every way and is merciful and faithful. In a practical realm, since he was human, it is kind of like he’s ‘been there, done that.’ He knows exactly what we’re going through, because he’s been through it! Particularly, I think of the humility Jesus went through. Jesus hung out with people like us, people like myself—those who didn’t have much, those who had issues, those who had vices—the people under the radar. Jesus decided to walk with people who didn’t have much. People who were talked about and even criminals. I think he put himself with people who needed him. But these were also the people he found value in. That’s what it means when it says, ‘brothers and sisters.’ I’m not perfect, but Jesus still values me as his own brother. ‘Why me, Jesus? Why stick around with me when I do so much that’s not God-like, that’s not Jesus-like?’ But he’s still with me. He still never takes his hands off me. He’s allowing me to turn my life around and that’s why I’m still breathing. I’m not perfect, my past isn’t perfect. But I try to live the best I can, and I’m truly grateful, because he hasn’t taken his hands off of me. He gives me another chance to live God-like, and I have to acknowledge that and live it.
Prayer: Christ, my brother, thank you for loving me. Help me to love myself and others.
By: Kevin Harris Isaiah 63:7-9 Reflection—v.9 ‘he lifted them up and carried them…’
When I read this passage, I felt as though God had increased me completely. I was able to ponder and be grateful for the many gifts the Lord has allowed me to experience. This year it feels as though I have been tried like Job. But even in the midst of my hardships, God constantly tells me ‘you may bend, but I won’t allow you to break.’ God says ‘I love you’ to life and I trust that God wants my life to be full and abundant. My Lord has shown me the love of a community that carries the Lord’s shield when I’m faced with trouble. Through my community I’m reminded of God’s promise to lift me up–God’s promise to carry us all to health and well-being. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the tasks of mercy and grace, yet it warms my heart to serve. So when God calls, I try to just listen. I hear birds, trees, and family. In conclusion, what the prophet Isaiah is describing in this passage is life. I love love and I love God’s people. Amen.
Prayer: God of abundant life, in our times of trouble and strife bring us health and wholeness through your beloved community.
By: Bethany Apelquist Isaiah 63:7-9 Reflection—v. 7 ‘I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord’
In a world that is often complicated and filled with violence and hardship, I love that we see Isaiah doing the brave work of recounting the gracious deeds of God. In November, I was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church by Mercy Community Church and First Christian Church of Decatur. That celebration reminded me so deeply of the gracious deeds of God. I was reminded of those moments, places, and people through which I have seen glimpses of God that are a little closer, a little more tangible, a little more of the God incarnate that we celebrate in this season of Christmas. So many of those moments have often taken place in this small basement church on the crowded street of Ponce. As I reflect during this Christmas season on God’s goodness, I can’t help but think of the faces of Mercy Community Church. Faces of those who have spoken prophetically, sung joyfully, and shared vulnerably. Every meal shared, every sound of laughter, every prayer lifted up in our community is a gracious deed of God. I have had the honor and privilege of worshiping with the Mercy Community for over five years now, and when I think about the gracious deeds of God, I count the Mercy Community on the top of my list. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that when you recount the gracious needs of God in your own life, your list includes all the love and warmth that Mercy Church represents for me.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for all the good things you are working in our lives.
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.
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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!
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Tracey grew up in the Chicagoland area with a small but close-knit family. Her mother was Catholic, her father Lutheran and she was brought up in a household that always acknowledged God. She attended Northern Illinois University and graduated with a B.S. in Family and Social Services in 1997. Before she earned her college degree, she also attended the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and graduated with a baking a pastry certificate. Throughout the past 20 years Tracey lived in a variety of places including Michigan, Seattle, India, and Brazil. She has called Atlanta home since 2016 where she lives with her daughters, Riley, and Shayla.
Tracey chose to care for her young family on a full-time basis until 2019 when she began her studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. She graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2022 and was ordained as a pastor by Mercy Community Church that same year. Tracey’s call to seminary was rooted in a deep desire to lead and live through her faith in God. She attended seminary with a hope of learning what that could mean while also knowing her path was not clear. As she served as an intern at Mercy Community Church for two years throughout her seminary studies, she began to discern that pastoring this community was a call she wanted to accept. Tracey loves to engage with the community through artistic expression, pastoral care and cooking delicious meals. She is honored to be a member of the Mercy community.
When she’s not with the Mercy crew, Tracey loves to dabble in all things creative, hang out with her fabulous teenage daughters, spend time with her pets, and run a few miles while contemplating the meaning of life.