If you drive to Danville and want to find the intentional community called “Grace and Main,” logic would tell you to look for the intersection of Grace Street and Main Street. You’d not find them that way, for there is no such street intersection. However, where Grace—the unconditional, undeserved, unlimited, unrelenting love of God—meets Main Street…now that is where you’ll find Grace and Main, a new form, a fresh expression, of church.
Joshua Hearne and his wife are leaders of Grace and Main Fellowship. Joshua is also the Executive Director of Third Chance Ministries—a ministry of Grace and Main.
Joshua, a graduate of Duke Divinity School, used to be on staff as Associate Pastor for Discipleship Ministries at an established, “inherited” church. Then he stumbled upon Matt Bailey, an ER nurse at the local hospital, and a Bible Study in Matt’s home where five people gathered were trying to learn how to serve the least of these. That encounter between Joshua and Matt was the spark that eventually turned into Grace and Main, a self-described non-traditional Christian community committed to worship, community, and service in downtown Danville, Virginia.
They have no building, nor would they take one if someone were to give it to them. “Like our beloved,” Joshua insists, “we are placeless.” They gather and worship in homes of the leaders of their faith community—moving around to a different home each Sunday evening to satisfy their diverse needs. The leaders are made up of people who have moved into the area and those who are long-time residents of the area, some of whom are formerly addicted and homeless. Nearly all of the leaders, including Joshua and his family, live in the neighborhoods among marginalized and disenfranchised—areas of high poverty and profound need.
Their worship is simple. Children are right in the middle of things. Without any accompaniment they might sing a hymn and a song that someone in the group wants to teach everyone. The “preaching” happens like this: Someone reads the Scripture for the evening aloud, and the one in charge of the service takes 3-5 minutes to say, “This is what I hear in the text.” Then that leader asks, “What do you hear?” Open discussion follows.
When asked what keeps Grace and Main from going theologically rogue? Joshua gives testimony to the power of the Spirt. “Beyond that, we gather daily in our homes to read Scripture together, to listen to the Spirit together. We take Scripture very seriously. We also believe the best guard of orthodoxy is orthopraxy. Practicing the teaching of the text keeps us faithful to the meaning of the text.” Joshua continued, “I am seminary trained, but I am not as good a guard of orthodoxy as a community of people seeking the face of Christ together. We also partner with local congregations whose pastors meet often with us, suggesting books to us and remaining in conversation with us.” He noted, halfway in jest, “No one asks established congregations what is to keep them from going rogue.” Yet he added, “Our answer is the same one they would give if they were asked. The answer is: ‘Commitment to following the guidance of the Spirit and mutual interpretation of Scripture in the community.’” The wonderfully unique thing about Grace and Main is that they are committed to the practice of hospitality. That means opening their guest bedrooms, their dinner tables, their showers and their bathrooms to homeless and near homeless, poor, addicted and hungry people.
Joshua acknowledges the risks associated with what they are doing but said, “We are finding that the things the world has taught us to be afraid of are not as scary as the world says. We don’t often let strangers in, but we live our lives in honest relationship every day with people in our neighborhood so the people we invite in are our friends and loved ones.” They would like to cultivate smaller communities in areas of profound need in the shadow of partner congregations. “We’re not looking to create a big, traditional congregation, but something people devote their life and time to,” Joshua told me.
In Fresh Expressions terms, they want to “Do it again.”
People have found great joy at Grace and Main. Josh, who raises his own support, said, “I cannot imagine another way to live and minister.”
Travis Collins is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and Director of Mission Advancement for Fresh Expressions US. He holds a PhD in Christian Mission and is the author of From the Steeple to the Street and Fresh Expressions of Church.