Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Place of Grace in Jackson, MS

Leslie Bingham

The Sunday we were in Jackson, Mississippi, we attended Sunday morning worship services at Galloway United Methodist Church, just a block from the state capitol building. This vibrant and generous congregation of about 2,000 is heavily committed to mission and outreach. So, in addition to an inspiring service led by co-pastors Rev. Dr. Connie Shelton and Rev. Dr. Joey Shelton, a lovely after-church luncheon, and a heavenly evening concert, we were invited to experience their day shelter to feed the homeless in their neighborhood. It’s called Grace Place.

Grace Place was founded 4 years ago. Located right in the church, it is open from 8:30-11:30 a.m. on weekday mornings. It serves a hot meal 4 mornings and “provides a place of rest and respite for those that call the streets their home.” On most mornings, about 70 guests are served. And in 2010, the grand total was 22,000 meals.

We arrived at about 8:00 and Leslie Bingham, Missions and Outreach Director, immediately put us to work setting tables. The kitchen staff (who also cook for other events at the church) and other volunteers and former guests had already been preparing the meal. When the doors opened, each guest signed in, went to the coffee room for a hot beverage, and then gathered in the dining room. Many of the guests chatted with other guests they knew and with the staff and volunteers.

When all were assembled, Leslie welcomed the guests, asked whether any guests were there for the first time (there were about 4), and explained the rules (such as to treat everyone, including the volunteers and staff, with respect). She also introduced us and asked us to say a few words about our project; we were pleased that the group vocalized appreciation. Then one of the guests offered a prayer and serving began, first women, then others table by table.

What a meal they received! – Chicken and rice casserole, green beans with bacon, baked sweet potatoes, and dinner rolls. When it was time for seconds, whatever food was left from the first serving was quickly given out, save for a few green beans and rolls.

What impressed us about Grace Place? As with most feeding programs, much more happens here than feeding. For example:
  • Staff help guests with issues such as transportation, clothes for job interviews, physical and mental healthcare, and getting into treatment for addiction. In addition, Galloway has a program they call “Transformation Trail” that provides income and job experience to one or two guests by hiring them as custodians or kitchen workers at the church. 
    Kaleb Thomson on the Roof
  • Grace Place is experimenting with a rooftop garden, currently managed by Kaleb Thomson, a senior social work major from Mississippi College who is doing a practicum at Grace Place.
  • One of the volunteers, Mark Wall, has been interviewing guests about their stories and taking professional portraits of them, a rare treat for guests. The pictures we saw posted on the wall at Grace Place, were truly captivating.
  • We heard many success stories, guests who had turned their lives around after experiencing the love and support of Grace Place.
Leslie has dreams of one day expanding to a full-fledged facility offering housing and even more services to those in need. But for now, Grace Place is focusing on what they do best – feeding people and providing a place for them to experience the love of Christ.


  1. What a wonderful ministry!

  2. Mississippi hospitality in its most gracious form. Thank God for folks like Leslie Bingham and her church family at Galloway.