When Your Convict Neighbor Shows Up Drunk To Church

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Several months ago I learned an ex-con lives fifty feet from my front door. I share my response here.

Thank God for grace, huh?

We have been slowly making connections with Richard. A plate of muffins here. A dish of enchiladas there.

Fixing his computer.

Inviting him to church.

Sharing a cup of coffee.

One encounter at a time, we are loosely stitching together a relationship.

Richard has come to church with us several times since Easter Sunday. Each time, I silently pray that Jesus’ love would pierce Richard’s heart. And each time, I am reminded that we can not limit our witness to Sunday mornings. We can not place all of the burden on our pastor’s shoulders.

It is our responsibility – yours and mine – to witness to our neighbors. God placed us exactly where we are for a reason. He desires for us to share His love with everyone we come in contact with. And maybe that looks like inviting them to church.

Or maybe it looks like a plate full of muffins.

We can not minister to the soul of a man without also ministering to his body.

It would be easier if this were not true. My life is busy. I have a lot of tasks on my to-do list. Baking muffins for my neighbor isn’t exactly my top priority. I would prefer to simply be able to extend an invitation for a Sunday morning service, sit silently next to him in the pew, and leave all of the hard work to my pastor.

But it is not my pastor’s responsibility. It is mine.

Because when Richard accepted yet another invitation to attend church with us, and then he showed up at our doorstep on Sunday morning reeking of alcohol, my pastor wasn’t there to handle the situation.

Richard slurred his words as he apologized for being late. He teetered unsteadily on his feet as we loaded our family into the van. He sat in the front seat next to my husband while I sat in the back with my children. He used colorful language and laughed loudly at his own jokes.

What should we do? Should we turn the van around and go home? My kids were hearing four-letter-words on the way to church. Would Richard behave himself once we got there? And how was he going to navigate the stairs up to the balcony in his condition? What an embarrassing situation!

What a perfect opportunity to show grace.

Because who needs to be in church more than a drunk ex-con? Besides, of course, a judgmental mom.

We stopped and bought Richard a coffee, strong and black. We turned up the music in the van to drown out some of the curse words from the front seat. We held Richard’s elbow and helped him climb the stairs to the balcony.

And we sat side by side in a sanctuary full of sinners, some of us better at hiding our sin than others, while we listened to my pastor. My pastor preached from the pulpit. We preached with our lives. Working together to share Jesus’ love with those who need it most.

Of course, halfway through the sermon, Richard had to stumble down the stairs to use the restroom. Too much alcohol and coffee will do that to you.

But he made it back in time to hear the most important part of the message. The part about God sending His only son to die for each one of us. The part about grace for sinners: for me, for you, and for Richard.

Natalie Gwyn

Natalie lives in Northern California with her husband and six children. She excels at laundry and laughter. She struggles mightily with patience and all things crafty. Natalie proudly claims the title of World's Okayest Mom as she makes her many mistakes, loves her family in the midst of the chaos, and shares her stories at www.nataliegwyn.com.

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