September 27, 2011

Postcard from Memphis

I’ve been traveling this past week. From New York to Memphis to San Antonio, I am visiting friends and family after a lengthy time away. In the process, however, I’ve also had the opportunity to check out a few innovative ministries taking place outside the Episcopal Church.  

For instance, last Friday evening I attended ‘The Way’, a ministry of St. John’s United Methodist in Memphis, TN. ‘The Way’ is a special evening worship service aimed at individuals who are recovering from addictions and their supporters. But as this photo indicates, the line between these two groups is intentionally blurred, a core theme of the service being that “everyone is in recovery” and “there is a God-sized hole in everyone’s heart”. (In addition to this service, St. John's also supports anonymous support and reading groups on recovery.)

As a first-time visitor, I found the service to be deeply moving, and with 75 persons attending regularly on a Friday night, it was clear that the gathering speaks to a real need in the community. The service had a unique format that emphasized food, getting to know one another, and a brief sermon on one of the 12 steps. But the glue that held the service together was music - of the kind and quality you’d expect from a church not far from Beale Street. Bluesy and enduring, I was in awe of the musician who played a slow rendition of Grandma’s Hands.

What struck me about this service is that it seemed to feed everyone - from the rows of men who came voluntarily from the rehabilitation clinic, to those who might never have suffered from addiction but who were getting to know people for whom this is a life and death struggle. The brief sermon - a testimonial, really - on the step wherein we ask for forgiveness from those we’ve harmed has led me to reflect on all those times I’ve simply mumbled the confession of sin in Sunday services. I heard about grace, forgiveness, and the courage to ask for this in a startlingly new light.

How is your congregation reaching out to the those in recovery? Would this form of a service be of help to people in your community?