By Beth Foster, Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center Director
What do you do at Mercy Junction? What is it? Are you a church or what?
I get that question a lot.
I have an elevator speech.
“Mercy Junction is a ministry of the Presbyery of East Tennessee. We operate the Justice and Peace Center at St. Andrews, which is a community of activists, artists and people of faith. We seek to create the ‘world as it should be’ within our walls and fight for the ‘world as it should be’ outside our walls. We practice radical peacemaking and hospitality. During hospitality hours, we open our sanctuary as a place to pray, meditate, read and rest. We provide vegan food, love, acceptance and safe space.”
The answer is usually, “Oh …” And a look that says I haven’t answered their question at all. “So, you’re a church?”
We’ll we do have a Christian worship service — the Lord’s Supper — on Wednesday evenings. We also have a reiki master who comes the same day to provide healing sessions and tarot card readings for guests, building partners and staff members who would like to participate. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper, all are welcome who wish to participate but no one is expected to attend either.
On Saturdays, this month at least — we change things up often at Mercy Junction, we’re doing a gathering called Sacred Scribbles on Saturday afternoon. It’s a journaling group centered around spirituality and meditation. Later in the day, following our weekend community meal, a Jewish member of our council is leading a “Third Meal” service.
Our Council Member Maddie Nix, a Cherokee follower of the Shamanistic Path, begins our gatherings and services with the lighting of a candal and these words, “We open every gathering at Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center by remembering that we are on sacred earth, stolen from the indigenous people who were here before us. We remember and honor them, and all the ancestors as we begin.”
While Mercy Junction is a ministry of the Presbyery of East Tennessee, we welcome people of all faiths and of no faith. One of our goals is to create a spiritual space in which everyone can safely practice their connection to the divine.
As part of that, we monthly publish the Holy Heretic. Our daily devotional zine for radicals is beginning its third year of publication.
“Holy Heretic is a monthly zine influenced by the wisdom of diverse traditions to inspire readers to create a more just world. Holy Heretic collaborates with artists, people of faith, writers and activists to discuss a range of issues in the quest for freedom, justice and peace — all with a creative, sometimes snarky, sometimes provocative, always loving, edge. We seek to bring together the voices of individuals of different faith traditions, as well as those who are not religious, to comment on the calling of people of conscience to work toward change.”
So, I still haven’t answered your question, have I? What do we do at Mercy Junction?
Mercy Junction is too much to condense to an elevator speech or a single blog post. Mercy Junction is human and sacred. Messy and beautiful. Constantly changing. What it always remains is love and acceptance, striving toward equality and peace in a broken world.
The best way I can tell you what Mercy Junciton is, I will share two Facebook statuses I made this week about my experiences at the center.
The First: Earlier this week at Mercy Junction, a lady in her late 50s to early 60s, stopped me on the stairs, obviously trying to seek me out when no one else was around. She always wears simple, pretty dresses and sandals, has impeccable manners and brings others who need help to the center. She often eats with us, takes some of the donation bread home with her and frequents the free store — but always under the guise that someone else in the neighborhood needs help. She was, in fact, a little standoffish, always sure we knew she wasn’t one of our usual guests.
When she stopped me on the stairs, she said, “Do y’all ever get donations, uhm, donations for things people might need?” It was obvious she was having a hard time finding words.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“Well, uh,” and then tears started flowing down her cheeks.
“I’m $4 short having enough to buy my insulin this month.”
I assured her we would get the insulin for her, and she started to sob.
I asked if I could hug her and she threw her arms around my neck and held tightly and sobbed for a long time. She said, “I’m just having a really hard time right now. “
She came back yesterday afternoon with a younger woman, late 30s to early 40s. The woman had been living on the street, but our regular guest had taken her in and helped her find a job. She’d brought her to the center to visit the free store to find clothes for work and to show her where she could eat dinner in the evenings.
The Second: Last night, just before closing, a man who often eats with us at Mercy Junction came by. He had gotten a roofing job and he and his co-worker hadn’t eaten all day. He wanted to take a plate back to him. He also asked if he could make another plate to take home, which he always does. Then he saw a bag of cat food we’d left out and asked if we had any dog food. He said he’d been taking the second plate home to his rescued pitbull. Whatever he had to eat got shared equally with her, but he would really like to be able to give her dog food. Thanks to Dixie Day Spay, I am able to take him a large bag of Dog Chow today and we are making arrangements to get his dog spayed. He is our second guest this week to ask for help feeding his non-human family members. Both of these folks are uncertain of where their next meals are coming from, but their conditions had not made them unable to be compassionate and generous … I’m wondering how it is that those who have seemingly everything, who control the purse strings for government and powerful institutions, become so greedy and lacking in compassion in comparison to our guests at the center.