By Annette Spence, 5/25/15.
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (May 25, 2015) — 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.
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 and immediately started a new church. He called it “Shades of Grace,” which made church leaders nervous because it resembled the name of a popular, provocative novel.
“This will be an inclusive church,” Shewey said. “None will be denied.”
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. Average worship attendance is 160, with a high of 310 on Pentecost Sunday, May 24.
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.
Located in a former flooring store in downtown Kingsport, 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.
On the coldest and snowiest days of winter, Shades of Grace kept its doors open day and night, serving meals donated by congregations of various denominations to 160 people at a time and allowing the homeless to sleep on sofas, chairs or the floor.
“They’re completely different than any church I’ve ever seen,” said Grady White, a Kingsport Police Department officer who sometimes worships and eats with the congregation.
“They’re actually willing to get their hands dirty when they’re dealing with the homeless and other individuals that most people are not willing to work with,” he said. “And they’re right smack dab in the middle of where the homeless people are.”