The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship creates Beloved Community through ministries like Grace & Main in Danville, Va., led by CBF field personnel Jessica Hearne and her husband Joshua. Grace & Main is an intentional community that offers homes for people who need shelter, an urban farm and weekly community meals, worship and communion.
In the following reflection, Joshua Hearne pays tribute to Bruce, a beloved member of the Grace & Main family who journeyed from homelessness and addiction to leadership and service in a loving and transformative community.
Bruce came to dinner the first time because we pestered him until he showed up. His friend, Robert, helped us out with the pestering until Bruce eventually told him, “If you’ll shut up about it, I’ll go once.”
Of course, Bruce ended up going much more than once. A few months after he shared that first meal with us, Bruce told me: “that first time I came, I didn’t believe that y’all loved me; but I could tell that you loved each other and it was nice to be near that.”
Bruce had burned every bridge he’d ever had and the match he used to set the fire was alcohol. It was a fateful meal with a four-year-old that provided the impetus for Bruce to dare to hope that our love could include him. With grilled chicken on his fork and with gentle trust in the heart of his four-year-old friend, something changed for Bruce. He called the next day and said he wanted to get clean. He was a little scared, in the moment, but Bruce was ready.
Bruce was integral to our establishment of the Urban Farm and he was the founding leader behind our community’s Tool Library. Bruce was one of four people in our city who received a certificate in permaculture design and sustainable gardening practices. Because of Bruce, dozens of people got thousands of hours of work through the tool library and through the connections that Bruce forged working around town.
There were some things that Bruce loved to do: working at the farm, repairing tools, building things with his hands, cooking breakfast, and going out for ice cream. There were other things that Bruce didn’t love doing, but did because he loved us: paperwork and reports, long meetings, Mexican food, and talking about money. For so much of our shared work, both loved and unloved, Bruce was ready.
Once Bruce got clean and committed himself to the life and work of our community, his life was marked by prayer in a special way. To ask Bruce to pray for somebody or something was to know that it would be remembered and thoughtfully considered, even if only rarely mentioned. He lived out the prayerful, little way of Jesus in front of our eyes, often drawing us deeper into the path of mercy or grace, even once forgiving a brother from an emergency room bed after the brother attacked Bruce with a baseball bat.
Once again, Bruce chose the path of love and his attacker joined him there, choosing to get clean shortly thereafter and take up the work of ministry in our neighborhoods. By the prayers of his heart, his mouth, and his actions, Bruce was ready.
When Bruce was admitted to the hospital this past August, we dreaded to find out what was wrong. So many concerning symptoms were wrapped up with my dear friend’s life that we feared our shared story would soon have a tragic turn. The cancer he was diagnosed with was relentless and lethally quick.
In those final weeks, the community gathered around him and prayed earnestly. The medical staff was astonished at how deep was the love for Bruce. They Googled him, they said, because surely he must be a special man to have so many who love him so much. They were surprised to find the video included below They were honored to join the beautiful story of Bruce for a bit. When he was given the option, Bruce insisted that he wanted to go home for the last few steps of the journey. He wanted to die in his home, and Bruce was ready.
So, they carried him to his home next to the Urban Farm and the Tool Library. They laid our dear brother in a borrowed hospital bed, overlooking the many works of his hands. He scratched his cat, Booboo, behind the ears. He talked on the phone with friends who could not make it into town quickly enough. He consoled us in our grief and loved us through our tears. We did what he asked us to do: we waited nearby, we sang songs, we played cards, and we told jokes. Nearly two dozen of us took time to make that living room a holy place full of the things and people that Bruce loved so dearly. Then, late on Friday, September 8, 2017, Bruce slipped away into glory.
Bruce was ready. We weren’t. But we’re accustomed to Bruce teaching us how to do things.
Watch the video story below about Bruce, and as you join with your beloved community this Thanksgiving please take moment to help create Beloved Community and offer radical hospitality. Give your special Thanksgiving gift to CBF today at www.cbf.net/give.