Advent: Hope

This is the first of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. 

 

The Tucker family had a long drive on Thanksgiving — from one corner of Ohio to the other to visit family.  We listened to Tish Harrison-Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary on our drive back from Dayton to Akron, and I was reminded of some of the depths and paradoxes of our faith.  

Waiting is one such paradox. We live between two Kingdoms — the Kingdom that is here and the Kingdom that is to come. Advent is a practice I have come to deeply value — principally because I am not good at waiting. I want quick responses to my e-mails. I stare as small dots blink on my iPhone waiting anxiously for the full response. Advent is a church-rhythm that leads us towards hope and expectation.

Over the past four years, the Tucker family has spent every other Advent season pregnant — expecting. It is perfect metaphor for God’s Kingdom, an expectant mother that knows the joy and fullness that is to come and waits for the full delivery of good news. I value the Advent practices of waiting, lighting candles, and thinking of what is to come.

What good news will God bring? What past promises still carry me today? What hope do we carry?

Hope has carried us this year at South Street Ministries. We hope in the Resurrection and in seeing lost ones again. We hope in Restoration for returning citizens (ex-felons), for recovering addicts, and for regimented do-gooders who do not know rest.  We Hope in the perfect Rest that is found in Christ — a Rest that stills our busy-ness with the simple, yet deep knowledge that He is God and we are not.

My propensity for quick results and responses stands in stark contrast to Advent. The Church has waited and waited for so long. And we continue to wait. We cry Maranatha (Come Lord Come) as we see the division, hate, and vitriol around us, yet still we wait.

The Hope of Advent does more than remind us to continue waiting. It bolsters and strengthens us to be God’s agents of change between two Kingdoms.  Thus we plant gardens and wait for fruit. We work with After School kids and address the same disciplinary issues again and again. We strive to maintain support for reentry and recovery and health and wholeness at the Front Porch Cafe to make sure there exists a place in-between for all peoples.  

The Hope of Advent reminds us that we are an in-between people. The work we do, from repairing a bicycle, to hosting a community event, to working with teen girls has eternal ramifications and slowly ushers in ‘good news’.  The Hope of Advent is fully realized in Jesus — this unlikely representation of the fullness of God, come at the fullness of time. Advent helps me filter the merriment of Christmas-time for the depth of God’s inception here on earth and the calling we have presently — to wait, to rest, to work, and to hope for God’s Kingdom fully come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Eric Harmon

Eric Harmon has worked at South Street Ministries since 2010 as the Project Manager for The Front Porch.  During his time at South Street Ministries, Eric also co-led the Barnabas Jobs Ministry with Toni Jones, and the Reentry Network with Donovan Harris.  He now works as a prison chaplain in Mansfield, Ohio. He and his wife Anne have two beautiful daughters–Evelyn and Alice. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series. 

 

When I was asked to write an article on my time at South Street Ministries over the last eight years, I thought “No problem, I’ll get that done right away!”  Well about three months later, I have finally sat down to write.  It is not that writing is a drag for me, but attempting to encapsulate what I have seen God do in the last eight years at South Street is not straight forward–it has not been simple.  

My time at South Street has been an all encompassing experience of life, faith, death, new birth, learning, and joy.  My only regret is that I did not record more of what I experienced, not for my own personal recollection, but only to share with others what I have seen God do.  To share with others what it is like when God sends his rain on both the just and the unjust–like the time when actual rain was destroying The Front Porch before the roof was finished, and I had no choice but to release its fate into God’s hands. But how could I put to words the process where my heart was broken and reformed so many times by the men that walked through our doors, so that even with the sadness of each failure, my heart still anticipated the love for and success for the next guy? This article is my attempt at sharing just a small artifact that records my witness to just how good God was over the last eight years.

Less than two weeks out of prison back in 2010, I sat in the same seat that Joe Tucker often occupies when you see him working in the Café.  South Street Ministries had yet to possess the building, but in that room were many of the people who would speak into and form my life over the next eight years.  In my attempt to “be about the right thing,” my Grandma reconnected me with Matt Simpson who “was about the right thing,” and he quickly welcomed me into his world and the community at South Street.  The first time I met Duane Crabbs I thought “Boy, this guy drives like a nut.” But he had the smell of Jesus about him, a familiar fragrance I had first gotten a wiff of during my stay in an Oklahoma prison.  Soon to follow were: Lisa Crabbs (who I thought had a refreshing sense of humor,) Toni Jones (we quit smoking together),  Ben and Adam Flossie (they became my quick friends), and Bobby Irwin (who was and still is the guy most like Jesus I have ever known).  While rehabbing the Batchel house with Matt Simpson, I met Anne Schillig.  I thought she was so awesome that I had to ask her out right away before the other guys figured it out!  She is now my wife.  God is good.

I quit my job and accepted an offer from Duane Crabbs to work as the Project Manager for the rehab of the Front Porch Café.  It was certainly a Holy Spirit moment and the Holy Spirit had found someone ignorant enough of construction and passionate enough to ignore the reality of just what bad shape the building was really in.  We would have it done in a year!  Seven years later we all said “It is finished.” Meanwhile, Nehemiah was shaking his head.  Within these years we opened the doors to the Café downstairs, created a jobs program for guys coming home from prison, and my two daughters, Alice and Evelyn, were born.  All the while, Sunday services were full of “The Presence of the Lord.”  During all of this I went to theological school, was ordained, and called to prison ministry “within the walls.”  Now that I have written just some of the events and people the last eight years, I realize just how full those years were.  God is good.

My last few weeks at South Street were so bittersweet as we said goodbye to our good friend Thomas Jones and I accepted a Job as a prison chaplain at Mansfield correctional for the state of Ohio.  As I told many people as I left, “I am going but I am not gone,” I still try to have a sandwich at the Front Porch Café on my days off.  While my new job is a great fit for my calling, nothing could have prepared me more than eight years at South Street Ministries loving some good people in some hard places.  God is good. 

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Bob Pacanovsky

Bob Pacanovsky is an entrepreneur and was in the hospitality industry for over twenty years.  He now uses that experience to assist the Front Porch Café in a volunteer role with food and service related opportunities.  He relishes these opportunities to help the Front Porch Café grow and prosper.  When Bob is not assisting them, he is a full time Keynote and Conference Speaker who speaks on The Black Tie Experience- how to use the power of Hospitality to make lasting impressions. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series, and a special honor to the life and legacy of Thomas Jones .

I vividly remember the meeting that I had with Thomas early in the fall of 2016–I knew that he was getting “it”.  What was “it”?  It was the business part of the food service/hospitality business.  As I had continually mentioned to him (and the rest of the team at the Front Porch Café), when you give good food and service on a consistent basis, people were not only going to return, but also ask you the question–“Do you cater?”

But, with that answer came challenges.  What would you charge, what would you offer?  How many people would you cater for?  And so on. But for the first part of 2016, as the calls were starting to come in more to the Front Porch Café to cater lunches and other events, the pricing and menus weren’t there yet.  But the staff team was working hard to make sure these items were good to go, and the guy that was leading that charge (and learning the most), was Thomas.  I knew that by the end of 2016, everything would be ready to move forward with the catering aspect for the Front Porch Café.

About two weeks after that call, I received a call from Duane.  It stopped me in my tracks.  “Thomas is in the hospital and he has cancer.  And it is Stage 4.”  I can’t even remember what I said in response, but I started praying for him.  And I started thinking back on the friendship that two guys, from two separate worlds, formed over the last few years because of The Front Porch and South Street Ministries.

* *  *

Looking back, I met Thomas when I owned my catering and event business in Akron.  But I met him through The Front Porch.  I learned of The Front Porch and South Street Ministries through my nephew and his family a few years before that.

South Street was starting up for the Front Porch Café for the second time in 2013, and I volunteered my services to help them get the restaurant off the ground.  I met Thomas as he was volunteering for them as a cook. He was pretty shy and quiet, but I also knew that he had kitchen experience.  I needed part time staff for my business, so I asked him if he would like a job with my company as well.  What I saw was that he was a hard worker, and he wanted to learn more about food service.

That hard work and willingness paid off as he became the person in charge of the Front Porch Café just a year or so later.  At that time, I had just sold my company and told him that I would be happy to work with him and help him as he took on this new role.  My strengths have always been in customer service, as well as systems and operations, and we worked together on improving both of these for the Front Porch Café. He absorbed everything like a sponge, and while it took some time, we could both see that both the restaurant and the catering were growing.

More importantly, I found a friend that I never would have expected.  And I think I learned just as much from him about resiliency, trust, and faith as he learned about the business aspect of food service from me. 

* *  *

I kept hoping and praying for the best after I heard his diagnosis, and he kept fighting too. He always wanted to talk about how to improve the Front Porch Café when we met during this time, and he was still learning and listening to my advice, observations, and knowledge.  As I look back, he was really a true servant leader, although I don’t know if he realized that or not.  He had the respect from his coworkers and was always there to encourage them.  And he would lead by example.

I believe that he was the driving force in getting the Front Porch Café back off the ground.  I believe that the Café is poised for more success because of the foundation that he laid.  He is there watching over all of them and myself as well.  I think about him often, and I thank God for the time that I got to spend with him being a mentor, teacher, and most importantly a friend to him.  I received that in return and much more from Thomas.

Thomas left a legacy at the Front Porch and he made a difference in the lives of many different people by simply providing a quality meal with a friendly smile.  But he did much more than that.  He was that quiet servant leader, which is missing in some organizations today.  Most importantly to me…he was my friend.

 

 

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Mary T. O’Connor

Mary T. O’Connor is the Architect of the renovation of the Front Porch Café.  Previously she was the principal of a New York City based practice specializing in the non-profit arts community.  After taking a two year break to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she wanted to extend the experience of working with underserved populations in the United States.  While seeking an opportunity for community based, socially conscious design practice, she was introduced to South Street Ministries.   On strength of their faith and works, she moved to Akron. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series. 

The keys and the building at 798 Grant Street had been handed to Duane Crabbs at no cost in 2011.  The donation gave the ministry the potential for creating an operating home for enlarging South Street’s mission: “Unlikely partners taking shared risks to renew our community for Christ’s sake”.    A new roof and the first version of the café were fully operational when I first encountered South Street Ministries.   My entrance in this story happened during this outdoor kitchen phase of the café, where we parked in the lot and were greeted by Freddie, the grill side breakfast cook.

On the day before my dear friend Anne Schillig’s wedding day, my sister, girlfriend and I drove to Akron from Cleveland to meet with her fiancé Eric Harmon.  From the start, Akron seized my attention.   On the way, I noticed a gentleness about the topography. There was a feeling of enclosure within an elevated place, an embrace.  It was a geography similar to Pittsburgh or Rome to me, but more intimate.

Though he must have had many bridegroom-related tasks to complete, Eric somehow managed to find time for us on his last day as a bachelor.  He had supervised the installation of the new roof and the first version of the Front Porch Café, despite having no experience in the building trades.    It was a fantastic first impression through the windshield of the rental car.   Eric stood talking to an enthusiastic, spatula-waving man behind the outdoor grille.

I could not wait to get out of the car, reassuring my less enthusiastic companions that everything was going to be great.   They did not see what I already started to feel – there was a hum, a vibrancy, a destiny in this place, to be launched by an experience in alternate dining.

Anne, the bride-to-be, and I met as Peace Corps volunteers serving in the Republic of Macedonia from 2006-2008.   She was one of the youngest in our group, and I was one of the oldest.   Over the two years, we had developed an unlikely but deep respect and love for each other.   We never questioned what simply grew through mutual recognition and respect in unusual surroundings.  Improvisation and imagination are survival skills in the Peace Corps, and we worked and played together to support initiatives in community building.

As we approached Freddie’s grill station that day in July 2011,  I carried wonderful associations of Akron from a radiant childhood experience at Camp Christopher in Bath, Ohio.  That experience was my first awareness of a power far greater than myself, of a universal transformative spirit that rose from the love and binding power of our voices in the green hills of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Eric ushered us into the building, showing off the renovated space.  A special table had been set for our breakfast.  He introduced us to Tom Fuller, our guide for the morning, so Eric could engage in his necessary bridegroom-esque rituals.  Each plate from Freddie’s grille was beautifully prepared in a steady, slow beat – plate by plate.  It would be part of a rhythm that day, hearing already the steady soundscape of Akron – a familiar, rumbling frequency I recognized somewhere in the fluency of my language of space.  The divining rod of my own body indicated treasure in this soil in Akron.  I paid attention.

At one point on that hot morning, we drove up a long, tree-shaded driveway. We were told it was Duane and Lisa Crabbs’ house.  Tom said they had moved to the neighborhood of Summit Lake based on a calling to serve the inner city, and for the fifteen years since starting South Street Ministries, had raised their children and the organization from the house.  The home itself was impressive, a solid foursquare farmhouse.   We only stood in the driveway that day.

Aside from that initial unease when one first encounters what seems like a ‘bad area’, I was aware of a hum of energy coming through my feet.    The house was no different than the houses around it, aside from the truncated  basketball court immediately to the front of the house and the prominence atop a hill,  the highest point in the area.  There was the steady hum of the nearby freeway, the one that sliced through Akron, dividing it north south.   As I stood in that driveway, looking at that house, the voices of our group blurred and faded for a moment.  Something took hold of my soles, connecting me to the ground, as though my feet sprouted roots.

Where the veil between the known and unknown is lifted for a moment, we can get a brief look at the other side.  While we think of such places as somewhere in the wilderness – the desert, the woods – they can happen anywhere, these ‘thin places’.  They happen on boiling days in July, standing in a driveway of an old foursquare farmhouse on a hill on a mysterious morning of elliptical sightseeing in Akron.

This spiritual bookmark came in what was the middle of my otherwise engaged life in New York.  The voices of my companions came back into comprehension.  No one else in the group seemed affected.  So I just stayed quiet and got back in the car, reasonably assured that I was outwardly the same to everyone.

In less than nine months, I would return to Akron for the 15th anniversary celebration of South Street.  At the end of that second exposure to the ministry, meeting Duane and Lisa, I knew.   They had a building, I was an architect.  I knew.  I decided to move to Akron.  Together, we could bring that building, The Front Porch, to all it could be in the spirit of the mission of South Street.  I knew.

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Terri Johnson

Terri Johnson first connected to South Street Ministries as a participant in Sunday worship at The Front Porch Café in 2013. There she found people from all sorts of backgrounds living as Jesus followers seven days a week. Having a heart for those who choose a life of ministry and sacrifice, she was led by the Holy Spirit to provide ministers with affordable housing. Terri opened a Christian community home three years ago in the Summit Lake neighborhood. The home is next to The Front Porch Fellowship church, the newly named congregation that migrated from the Café to Summit Lake (in the former Miller Avenue UCC building.)  Terri’s calling to support ministry leadership is also evident in her role as chairperson of the church’s board. As her roots deepened in the community, Terri moved from Hudson to a home in Akron in 2015. This blog is a part of the 20/20 Come and See series.

How did I get connected to South Street Ministries? I don’t remember the workshop title but the facilitator was Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Sarah Emerick and I were at a youth ministry conference in Chicago.  I was a twenty year veteran of youth groups and Sunday School at a church in Hudson. Sarah was the Youth Director. Both of us were excited to escape to Chicago for a few days as we were frazzled with life’s challenges. We did not expect to have our view of the ministry turned upside down. Dr. Clark challenged our view of the church. Were we leading youth to sustain the church at its current state? Or, were we introducing the youth to the idea that the church should look like Jesus’ ministry?

At the end of the workshop Sarah asked Dr. Clark for contemporary author recommendations. He gave us three suggestions – Dallas Willard, Shane Claiborne, and I can’t remember the third. As I threw myself into Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy,” Sarah absorbed Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution.”  And then we switched.  It was like putting on a pair of jeans that spent too much time in the dryer. Our time spent at our Protestant denomination church in an affluent town no longer fit.

A few months later, Sarah, the Youth Director of our church, called The Simple Way, the radical Christian community that grew from Shane Claiborne’s vision. She asked, “Is there anything going on in Cleveland or Akron like The Simple Way?” The woman on the phone responded with “Well, yes. We just had a group travel through Akron and they spent time with the folks at South Street Ministries.” That phone call led to an internet search, an address, and a few cautious drive bys. The address was Duane and Lisa Crabb’s house on South Street. I wasn’t going to pull into the driveway. It is is set back from the street a ways, and there is a daunting hill. It did not match my narrow view of a ministry.  But after a closer look at the website, I found the Front Porch Café. I was still just driving by at this point.

All this time Sarah continued to be employed, though the scope of her ministry expanded to family ministries and education. Jumping ship wasn’t an option for Sarah at this point. But the Holy Spirit was working on me. It was a Tuesday in the spring of 2013 that I felt a tap on my shoulder, and the whisper that said, “Go.” So I left my comfortable office in Richfield, drove to Akron, and walked into the Front Porch Café.

“Why are you here?” asked the chef behind the counter. Did my outfit that screamed “I work at an insurance company” tip him off that I wasn’t there to buy a sandwich? I explained that I was here because of a suggestion from The Simple Way. He pointed to a table by the office and said “Talk to Joe.”

Joe Tucker was gracious but cautious about my intentions in getting involved. He explained the ministry and invited me to explore incarnational concepts.  Joe started with the hard part. He told me that Jesus lived among the people, and that South Street believes doing life with those whom we serve includes living in the community. He told me the history of Crabbs’ family in the neighborhood, and about the national movement called the Christian Community Development Association. Best of all, he never assumed that I was a potential donor from Hudson.  He spoke to my soul.

Going to the first few Sunday services at The Front Porch was even less comfortable than my first few drives around the neighborhood.  But I was touched by the authenticity of the people I met.  When you ask someone “How are you?,” my previous church’s standard answers were “Good,” “Fine,” and “Another day in paradise.”  Ask someone at South Street Ministries or the Front Porch Fellowship, and you might hear “Fantastic, I am 87 days sober,” or “The devil is really working on me these days,” or “I am afraid for my daughter.”

This ministry was and is the closest thing to Biblical truth I have ever witnessed. Name a parable and there is a South Street story that confirms its teaching. The Sower–talk to the re-entry folks whose work is bearing fruit in the community because of good soil. The Woman at the Well–when the Word is offered to everyone no matter their origin or their deeds, people are set free from bondage. The Field–listen to the stories of people who have found the treasure hidden in the city of Akron and in their joy are ‘all in’ for Jesus.

What is my advice to someone who is considering stepping into South Street’s world? Come and see. Sure it is uncomfortable at the onset. It was for me. But that feeling disappears quickly as your eyes open up to the people around you.  And then you realize that the Kingdom of God is right here.

“I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.” 
― Shane Claiborne, ‘The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical’

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here.