Shades of Grace UMC continues to serve the least, the last, the lost and the lonely

Marci Gore • Jan 17, 2016 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — When Shades of Grace United Methodist Church opened its doors in downtown Kingsport 15 months ago, Rev. Will Shewey says he had no idea the impact the little storefront church would eventually have on the community in which it serves.

“The work here is evolving weekly. Every day, every week it takes on a different turn. We’re constantly redefining who we are. I didn’t know there were so many different ‘shades of grace,’ ” he said.

Shades of Grace is a part of the Kingsport District of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Shewey says Shades of Grace is a church for anyone and everyone, but it strives to especially serve what Shewey calls the “four L’s” — the least, the last, the lost and the lonely, the ones right here in Kingsport and the surrounding area who are often forgotten, or those “the system” has failed in some way.

Some of the folks who walk through the front door of Shades of Grace have no family, no friends, no home, no money, nowhere to go. They’re simply looking for some place they can feel safe and welcome.

“Jesus said go in all the world and present the Gospel, but you begin where you are in ‘Jerusalem’ — at your home,” Shewey said.

Shewey says many of the homeless who find their way to Shades of Grace battle mental illness.

“They have fallen through the cracks,” he said. “We have a man who came out of an area mental hospital. He’d been sleeping outside and ended up here. We got him inside, and when we got his coat off of him, there were three prescriptions folded up in his coat. He mentally did not have the capacity to know about getting the prescriptions filled.”

Shewey said Shades of Grace partners with local health care and counseling centers to assist folks in getting the help and services they need.

“There are lots of things we do for the community to reach out and try to help people. We do meals six days a week,” he said. “Our greater need, though, is to feed them hope, to offer them hope that they don’t have to stay where they are. Life has been hard to some of these people.”

Last winter, Shades of Grace began opening its doors as an emergency shelter during the bitterly cold days and nights. That service to the community has continued this year. Shewey says when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees, Shades of Grace will remain open during the overnight hours, serving as a warming shelter for anyone who has nowhere else to go.

And although Shades of Grace is a United Methodist Church, numerous volunteers — from all denominations — help and support Shades of Grace, whether it’s through donations or the giving of their time.

“We’ve had some sort of help from everybody from the Mormons to the Apostolics,” Shewey said. “We recently received a check for $5,000 in our offering plate from a church of a different denomination. It was put there in an envelope saying they did not want any recognition for the donation. They said they believe Shades of Grace is doing what the church of the Lord should be doing in our world.”

The stories he hears from those who come to Shades of Grace can be heartwrenching.

Shewey often shares some of these stories on his Facebook page at the end of each day, giving those who follow him on social media a glimpse into what goes on at the church.

Earlier this month, he shared the story of the teenage girl and her mother who showed up at Shades of Grace with nowhere to go. They ended up staying overnight at the church.

“The daughter is a student at a local high school. She was already sleeping on her cot with a folded blanket for (her) pillow. I quietly asked the mother where they will sleep tomorrow night since we will not be open. She said, ‘I don’t know. I’m going to try to sell enough blood platelets tomorrow to get us a place to sleep,’ ” Shewey said.

Another woman, in her early 70s, with numerous health issues, including arthritis that requires her to use a walker, found herself homeless the day after Christmas when she fled a drug-filled environment in which a family member is involved. Shades of Grace has been helping her to stay warm and safe.

“They helped me with clothes and blankets and fed me,” she told the Times-News. “They gave me a Bible. I’ve got nowhere to go and no money. I’ve just had to walk the streets. I don’t know where I would’ve been without Brother Will and Shades of Grace.”

She said she hopes to be able to move into an apartment in the coming days.

Another young woman shares the story of how she ended up in Kingsport on Good Friday last year.

“I was in a domestic violence shelter in (the Midwest), and I had a friend here who was going to help me out. The domestic violence shelter bought me a bus ticket to come (to Kingsport). I got off the bus and that friend was nowhere to be found. It was raining. It was cold. I was just walking up and down the sidewalk trying to find somewhere to get out of the rain,” she said.

She says she eventually ran into Shewey and went into Shades of Grace, where a volunteer gave her a meal and helped her to dry off and get warm. She has remained in Kingsport and is trying to get back on her feet.

“If there is anything I need, Shades will help me get it. I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said.

Shewey said word of what Shades of Grace does has spread throughout the community and he even gets phone calls from government agencies seeking the church’s help. Shewey says on Friday he received a phone call from Adult Protective Services.

“They wanted to know if there was any way we could help an elderly woman and her mentally disabled adult son,” he said. “They had fallen behind in their rent and their landlord put them out on the street in the rain.”

Shewey said Shades of Grace is paying for them to stay in a motel for a few nights until other arrangements can be made.

Shewey says he hates to think what would happen to some of these folks were it not for Shades of Grace.

“Even the Salvation Army calls on us to help those that they cannot serve for whatever reason,” he said. “Our services are greatly needed here. We’re a church that is just trying to do what any church should do.”

With bitterly cold temperatures forecast for the upcoming nights, Shades of Grace will be open as an emergency shelter beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The church is located at 313 East Sullivan St. in downtown Kingsport.

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