Radical Hospitality Meets Tough Love: a book review

One of the formative experiences of my life was the year I interned at a Christian community development organization working with homeless people. We partnered with a downtown church to offer a worship service, meal, showers and clothing exchange.  The organization I worked with was sensitive to making sure that we were helping people and not just enabling people. I was responsible for coordinating and training volunteers and regularly preached and led worship for our homeless congregation. I befriended a number of street people. Sometimes I was able to offer real help to people. Other times I got snookered. I am currently not involved with ministry to the homeless population; however I am grateful to the men and women of the streets who helped shape me and my approach to ministry.

In the The Weight of Mercy Deb Richardson-Moore shares her journey as pastor of the Triune Mercy Center, a congregation in Greenville, SC which works with homeless people and families and individuals in transition. When she became their pastor she inherited a mission which fed, clothed and cared for the homeless and destitute. She also inherited a staff riddled with problems. Under her leadership Triune was transformed from a ‘mission’ which put a band-aid  street people’s problems to an organization which empowered people to leave the street and addiction.  Triune Center works to help addicts walk the road to recovery, help people find housing and help them find employment. Richardson-Moore shares her story of steps and missteps, hope and heartbreak as she works to bring about real transformation in the lives of Greenville homeless.

With too many homeless ministries mercy triumphs over justice in a way that does more harm than help. Well meaning people provide food for the hungry but do not do the hard work of challenging the systems and situations that make people homeless. It is refreshing to read a book by an author who is attentive to how she can bring real change into people’s lives. Richardson-Moore  is gracious and welcoming of those she serves but is not afraid to issue challenges and call people to take responsibility for their lives. Radical hospitality meets tough love.

This isn’t to say she has done everything right. These pages do not just tell stories of ministry successes. Richardson-Moore tells stories of tension with her staff, mistakes in leadership, places she’d been too judgmental or inattentive to those she pastored. She is vulnerable and seeks to love her church well. Richardson-Moore has a good sense about how to care for people but some lessons were learned the hard way.

I really appreciated this book in part because in a small way I have traversed the same ground and pieces of my story resonate with hers. She also has a vision for ministry with people on the margins which I find deeply compelling and hope that when I am in a pastoral position I can bring the same sensibilities to the table.  But I think that any one who is concerned about carrying for the marginalized will be encouraged and challenged by her story. I commend this book to you. It is moving account and well worth reading. It doesn’t hurt that Richardson-Moore spent years as a journalist, so writes well. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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