The Rev. Will Shewey was so determined to begin a storefront ministry for forgotten people that he was willing to resign as a United Methodist pastor to make it happen.
"Let me follow my dream. This is what I'm supposed to do," Shewey told church officials for eight years.
At age 62, Shewey was new to homeless ministry while experienced in evangelism and building congregations. 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, serving churches in rural southwest Virginia before receiving the Denman Evangelism Award from Holston Conference in 2006.
"I praise God that this is a United Methodist congregation," says Shewey, "but if the Cabinet and district superintendent had not believed in me, I would have followed my dream."
In 2014, Shewey believed he could wait no longer. With support from Holston Conference, the award-winning pastor departed the congregation he had served for five years. In July 2014, Shewey was appointed to start a new Kingsport church. He called it "Shades of Grace," which made church leaders nervous because it resembled the name of a popular, provocative novel.
Less than a year after the first worship service was held in the fellowship hall of Mafair United Methodist Church, Shades of Grace has its own location, offering a complex ministry for an inner-city community every day of the week.
"This will be an inclusive church," Shewey said. "None will be denied."
Shades of Grace has a congregation that's 50 to 60 percent homeless while serving an even larger group of low- or no-income people through meals, showers, addiction help, GED education, job assistance, prayer and friendship.
It's not exactly what the founding pastor expected.
"I had no idea we would be so steeped in the homeless population. I did not know the extent of the problem," Shewey says
Shades of Grace offers worship three days a week, Bible study three days a week, and free meals on three evenings. The new church has also hosted holiday banquets and a community meal honoring police officers.
"Every time we have another banquet, our numbers increase," says Shewey.
Other than salary support, Shades of Grace has paid for its own expenses, including building improvements and funerals for congregants, Shewey said. "The money comes in off the street from people who believe in what we're doing. I fully believe that if you do what God wants, the money will show up."
Shades of Grace is learning, day by day, new ways to accommodate and work with their unique congregants, says Justin Brooks, worship leader and volunteer.
Meanwhile, Shades of Grace keeps discovering new faces among the people who are somehow discarded or fall through the cracks. Pastor Shewey realized long ago he was called to minister to "the last, the lost, the least and the lonely."
"I surely agree with Jesus' words, 'The poor are always with us,'" he said. "The needs are so great, and some are in a dire place due directly to bad choices. Some just met with unfortunate circumstances. Shades of Grace is called to be light and salt in a hostile environment."
Adapted, Annette Spence, The Call, Vol. E15, No. 10, Holston AC
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