We Cannot Be Separated from God’s Love.

Romans 8: 38-39IMG_6715

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


I am still thinking back over years of experiences at Sixty-First Avenue UMC, especially since the days grow close for its closing. As these days of June pass and I realize the import of what this looks like, what it means, memories literally just shake free, wanted or not. Some give me actual pain because of their seeming lack of resolution.

I can remember clearly encouraging and inviting adults who cared for the children we tutored, be they guardians, parents or grandparents, to attend church with us on Saturday evening. Too many times their answer was “they couldn’t go to church, they had sinned too much” or some variation on those words that indicated a lack of worthiness they felt necessary to enter the sanctuary. They often attended celebrations or holiday meals in the common rooms but very often never entered sanctuary space.

Now, as time is afforded this displaced congregation an opportunity to speak at Saturday evening worship (which has always been the case) they also have a common theme running through their fears, their sadness, their uncertainty. They, too, indicate a feeling of unworthiness to attend a new church. To become part of a new congregation. Some concern is tied to what they wear—will their clothes be acceptable? How they look. Their lack of formal education. Their lack of financial resources. They mention not being “special” and not feeling welcome or comfortable outside this cocoon they have known so long. This church did indeed accept them. This church loved them. I am using the term church rather than being more specific because to them it was the “church.” It was all inclusive to all those who attended there, who visited there, who served there, who preached there, who loved there. They were at home. They were accepted as they were and where they were. Most importantly, they did not have to be anyone else; who they were was more than enough!

One recent Saturday evening, we were asked to “pass the peace” by saying “Peace be with you, God loves you.” For those not familiar, this is common to most Methodist congregations and is a time of hand shaking and sharing with one another. It is lovely. But this particular evening, a homeless gentleman walked over to shake my hand and say the words, which he did….but then he added “Miss Jackie, I know God loves you but don’t think he loves me”! I answered by hugging him and saying I knew God loved him. He asked me how I knew. I told him I knew because the Bible teaches us this very message in many, many ways. He sat with me the rest of the service.

But, I went home so sad. I have long seen a thread that feeds through those people our society deems poor, a word I actually abhor. How can we attribute that word to God’s children who may not have financial resources but are rich in so many other ways? Their spirits are rich. They are disciples without even knowing it. They live it. They have no poverty of compassion, of love, of care. They do often have a poverty of hope. But that is real.

It gives pause for how we “do church,” for what message we send, intentioned or not, in making our friends in Christ feel “less than.” Our societal boundaries and values are so ingrained with what we have and how we look and who we know….our educational levels, our jobs, our homes. Nouwen says we will only be remembered for who we were. Yikes! Take all that away and who are we?  So many are overcoming our cultural conditioning and enjoying relationships across boundaries that are not allowed to divide. Those relationships across time have contributed to what this closing church has been and has become. But, we can all still consider if we are  people who judge too quickly. based not on gospel teachings, but on societal teachings? Are we people who might seemingly welcome someone different than we are to our places of worship but do so in a way that is patronizing? Do we know one another’s stories? Do we know what brings joy, what brings sorrow? Do we know who we are together? Not a judgment, just thoughts to consider. For me, too.

My poverty, our poverty is often a lack of engagement.

We are grateful to Pastor Neelley Hicks who has been a shepherd for this congregation, driving them to several worship services over several weeks, visiting and sharing time with congregations to see where they felt hopeful about a future in a new place. They chose to attend and become a part of the congregation at Glencliff UMC.

I happened to read some words from one of my Dad’s journals, written following a long sojourn serving in Haiti and he said:

“You can’t make disciples unless you are a disciple yourself.”


A Gift from Whitman

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”
— Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass

To Celebrate Raymond

Finally Home
The young son

left home at nine

reasons unknown

memories dimmed

by time or choices.
Youth lost to 


and days

and years

no direction

no community.

Worth not considered,

A new home


a small church building

with mega church care.

A vital congregation

disciples a constant 

with smiles of welcome

to a community of faith.

Recurring disappointments

but love always

his only vision of God’s promise

and power.
His idea

the weekly supper

Saturday nights

the congregation made new

servants and food

neighbor redefined.

Fear displaced

by vans of 

broken community

the hungry, the cold, the homeless.
A pastor loves

a pastor teaches

the young man his family

because he is God’s family.

The words come alive

in redefinition, changed thinking

the mix made possible

by intention and steadfast resolve.
Good days and hard days

moving forward but often back

behaviors resulting

in jails both real and imagined.

Days interspersed with a kind

of joy sprung from value

when accepted

and childlike love

given freely.
Needs narrow

a warm space

a little food

love that stays.
A paupers’ cemetery

the final call home

circled by

friends of circumstance

and survival

friends who

shared pews 

and smiles

hugs and

genuine care.
 The pastor who loved

through acceptance

without judgement

speaks simply but eloquently

to equal worth through



to gather up

arms full

a lesson for 

lifetime thought

lifetime use.
Tears for loss

but joy

for wholeness.

Finally home.


written to honor Raymond.


God’s Teachers

Raymond 2012

With the closing of Sixty-First Avenue UMC in west Nashville June 24, memories are crowding thoughts these days. Being in community and having made so many friends over these last 20 years provides a jumble of faces and names and events and feelings. Putting order and perspective to those thoughts immediately brings Raymond Hampton to the forefront, though he was not a child we tutored. Rather, he tutored us!

Raymond was not only a member of the congregation of Sixty-First, he was instrumental in the formation of the structure it offered around serving the homeless population. He was on again, off again homeless himself, though he would not have characterized it that way…because from 1998 forward, his home was this church and its people. Pastor Paul, and Nita and Brenda were his family.

If I remember the story accurately, it was Raymond who suggested to Pastor Paul they have a Saturday evening meal and provide a way for the homeless to be present, both for the meal and worship following the meal.

I have not known anyone just exactly like Raymond! He had the quickest smile I have experienced….in spite of his struggles, he engaged with those around him. I learned over the years he wanted to be part of whatever was going on but often wanted to be asked! Somehow that piece was very important to him! I can remember driving around Brentwood to pick up some furniture and household goods for someone in the Sixty-First congregation who was getting an apartment. I arrived there to drop off part of the load…and Raymond was there. He watched me start to unload and stood smiling. I called out to him to come help me and he laughed and shook his head. I learned this was not his way of saying no, it was his way of inviting more conversation and affirmation. So I said, “come on, Raymond, I know you want to help me—-you are my brother in Christ” and he was at my side in a few seconds! Something similar happened one Saturday morning when I was participating with members of Franklin First UMC in their Great Day of Service. Several of us were cleaning flower beds in front of the church, pruning and mulching. Raymond was nearby and I asked him to help me carry a big bag of mulch. He, again, shook his head but stepped right up when I kidded with him! Like families do. Wow, I recall so clearly both of us down in the dirt working together!

Interestingly, in all the years I knew Raymond, he never asked for anything for himself. Being his friend was what he valued.

I can’t possibly share every story here but there were many. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for a stretch. Once he was in jail for an alcohol related, non violent issue—and I wrote him a letter and sent him chocolates. Well, guess what? I did not realize then you aren’t allowed to send chocolates so they were sent back. They did allow him the letter which mentioned the chocolates so he knew I had tried. Later, he laughed and laughed because I didn’t know “the rules” but underneath it was a lovely moment.

Raymond died suddenly a few years ago. I had seen him two weeks prior at a Saturday night service. He was selling papers for the Contributor at that time and was so proud. We all bought papers from him and engaged in conversation. My last memory was his smile and laughter that night. Those were never absent with Raymond around.

He was buried in a paupers’ cemetery. The graveside service was conducted by Pastor Paul Slentz. Rules are pretty strict around services in these set apart portions of cemeteries so the service consisted of a gathering of people who had scant time to celebrate a life. The grave diggers were across a ditch from us. His pine box coffin was placed beside them. I remember calling out to one of them, saying “thank you for digging our friend’s grave” and he responded “he sure was a young man.” Indeed he was in his 40’s as I recall. The gravedigger also told us we  could take our time! That was a gift we had not expected! I wish I had Pastor Paul’s words to share from that day. As always, they were loving and comforting and evidence of Raymond’s victory over death. He loved Raymond as Raymond loved him. I have attended several funerals over the years of members of Sixty-First but I believe this was the hardest. Raymond was part of the landscape of the community and congregation. He is still missed, as are many others.

Pastor Paul Slentz taught me a lot through Raymond as well as others. The most important thing he taught me was to love people where they are. Not where we want them to be, perhaps not even where they want to be. But God meets us there.

I have been to three funerals now at paupers’ cemeteries. It has always bothered me. When my own mother died in 2015, I remember sitting in the sanctuary prior to the service. No one else was actually in the space yet as a luncheon was being served for our family. Her coffin was before me. I was struggling mightily and, oddly,  thought back to Raymond’s funeral as I sat. And it struck me that it mattered not their funerals were so different, one seemingly more “proper” than the other. I realized, almost as an epiphany, the same God welcomed them both home and nothing else was of consequence.

Raymond left home at the age of nine. I really like to think of him as being home again.



I Don’t Know Where I Am Going!



I don’t know where I am going.

I see churches without walls

his people gathered

their collective

becomes the power

to be authentic

to be the gospel

not preach the gospel.

I don’t know where I am going.

God quietly beckons

to the unknown 

Mine becomes ours

in communion born of love

lived out in gospel verses

written on walls

that divide.

I don’t know where I am going.

I see the face of God

shining in sparkling waters

healthy foods


holistic care

equality in all.

I don’t know where I am going.

I see his face

in the chance to be young

imaginations freed

to reorder and

change our world.

A chance to be old

wisdom well shared

aging valued.

I don’t know where I am going.

The poverty of spirit

replaced by hope

and love

equal value recognized


Joy joins hands

finds its space

settles in.

I don’t know where I am going.

Together across borders

man made

no longer separated

but a people

of one and many.

A chance for honor.

A chance for peace.

I don’t know where I am going.

Finite time dictates urgency

learning confined to


and shared bread

professors seated

books aside.

I don’t know where I am going.

Meaning becomes

self emptying love

that embraces blind trust

mind and body

open to God’s love

God’s plan

God’s time.


never owned


I don’t know where I am going.

But I am trying to follow.

jackieshields 10.27.15