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One of our community’s teachers passed from this world to rest with Christ in God just a little while ago on August 21st. During the few years we spent with her on North Main St., Joann taught us some of the finer points of gracious hospitality by living it out with little consideration given to laying out a complete, cohesive, and persuasive theology of hospitality. Simply put, Joann practiced hospitality because it was the “right thing to do” and because offering grace in a hard place gave her joy. She taught and reminded us that sometimes we should open our lives to others in hospitality not because it will help accomplish some particular kind of social change, but because it is a joyful and blessed thing to do.
Joann not only welcomed folks like Bruce, Linda, and Robert off the streets and into her home, but also welcomed a fledgling Grace and Main into her home and yard when we had a problem with no clear solution. We felt called to continue our work and our “roving feasts” on North Main, but our work depends on a foundation of relationships and consistent presence. Unlike we had downtown, we didn’t have a home on North Main Street. However, Bruce, our newest leader at the time, lived with Joann and thought she would let us use some of her space to serve. It was exactly the kind of opportunity we were looking for, so we hoped that our existing relationships with Joann and the folks on North Main were enough to form a new partnership.
Joann welcomed us eagerly into her home and onto her porch. Though we were anxious at the time about whether or not she’d welcome us, we can look back and laugh at ourselves years later. This woman who never drove more than 55 miles per hour—regardless of how high the speed limit was set—wasn’t afraid to take risks in the name of showering her neighborhood with grace and love. So, she took a risk on a fledgling intentional community that wanted to learn how to love and welcome the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed.
When Robert and Linda wanted to start a breakfast out of the kitchen, she not only allowed them but she cooked the eggs. When Bruce wanted to start a tool library out of the old tool shed behind the house, Joann bragged about the work we were doing to her friends and coworkers—not pointing out that it was her hospitality that made a place to provide tools for the neighborhood to borrow. When one of our brothers relapsed, she welcomed him back when he had asked forgiveness for the relationships and trusts he had broken in his relapse. When we planted an expanding garden in the backyard, Joann joined with us in eagerly waiting for the first tomatoes and watermelons. When Linda was tragically struck by a car and killed, Joann joined with us in mourning. Joann is one of us and one of our teachers and we give thanks for her and her many sacrifices and gifts.
When the word was passed that Joann’s long fight with illness was over, we were heartbroken. We were thankful that she went peacefully, surrounded by her family, and under the dulcet tones of some of her favorite hymns and Elvis songs. All over her property are flower boxes that Bruce had made for her because of how much she loved flowers. All over the Northside are changed lives that Joann’s hospitality helped make because of how much she loved her neighborhood and its people. So, we give thanks for Joann though we are heartbroken, and we consider what it must have been like when Jesus welcomed her into Heaven the same way she welcomed so many into her home and to her table.
This I promise you: Joann of North Main St, beloved by God, her family, and her friends, helped teach us how to follow Jesus, so not only do we call her sister, but teacher as well.
Meanwhile, we look forward to being reunited with her and all those who have passed from our community. We know they rest with Christ in God and that even death itself cannot separate us from our beloved. Amen.