Roots of Action
If it’s true that the change we want to see in the world starts with us, MacLeod is positioned to see the church transform from an inward-looking, self-centered organization to a community of radical service and hospitality.
He comes by it naturally: Growing up in London, Ontario, his father was head of Compassion International in Canada, a large Christian humanitarian organization. That planted the concept of “faith in action” in the younger MacLeod. “And I’m wired for action; I grew up playing with GI Joes,” says MacLeod, who came from a conservative Baptist background but became more interested in the Holy Spirit after attending Belmont Church in Nashville—a renowned charismatic outpost.
Today MacLeod says his heroes of the faith include everyone from William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Catholic monastic. And his theological training? “I went to music school in Canada. My seminary is the ‘hood.”
It’s the ‘hood that has welcomed this Canadian father of two who is married to a woman from India and in the process of adopting a child from Brazil. As we walk out of the small room and into The Foundry’s sanctuary, transformed with tables adorned with fake flowers and plastic tablecloths, a large African-American woman yells, “Pastor Scott!” and throws her arms around him. I watch MacLeod—who is white, bald and missing eyebrows because of an overactive immune system that two years ago resulted in a rare form of alopecia—hug the woman and smile. He proceeds to walk around the room and greet the homeless guests and the volunteers in a comfortable, easy way.
About 20 minutes into the meal—there’s a small stage at the front of the room where a young “musicianary” from Switzerland has been singing English praise songs with an accent—MacLeod gets up to speak.
“2009 is going to be just fine,” he says into a microphone in a way that is both authoritative and unassuming. “If you’re all about Jesus, you’re in a good place.”
A few “amens” echo throughout the room of about 50 people. I look around and see worn faces hovering over enormous plates of food—ribs, chicken, steaming vegetables. Some people have three plates in front of them. One man is talking to himself; the person next to him is telling him to be quiet.
As I take notes and MacLeod speaks, a man who smells of liquor stumbles up to me in the back and asks for cigarettes. Before I can tell him I don’t have any, he wanders off, aimlessly.
All of this reminds me that homeless ministry is much less glamorous than it sounds, and much more intimidating than it’s often made out to be, which makes it all the more fascinating how calm and relaxed MacLeod seems. I’m aware that his laptop is in the small room off the sanctuary, and from time to time I actually see someone who isn’t a volunteer walk in there. I’m worried. But something tells me Pastor Scott hasn’t even thought twice about it.
After testimonies from two of the young volunteers, MacLeod gets back up to deliver a message. He talks about a second birth, a second chance.
“You’re not too far down, you’re not too far gone,” MacLeod says calmly. “In fact, I think God’s going to release outreach from Meal of Hope this year. I think God could do something like that this year, where all of us in this room become a blessing to the community.”
MacLeod is at it again: not just talking about blessing and redemption, but about what we should do after we’ve been blessed and redeemed.
After the meal, as volunteers fold up tables and put food away, I look around and think about how MacLeod gave up a glamorous music career for this. And then I remember something he said in that small room, his non-office: “If you let go of what you love the most, you’re free. I had to lay my Isaac down on the altar, but God eventually brought him back.”
It makes sense now: The meeting with the music executive; the CD MacLeod held up that said FOUNDRY SONGS. And I hope, for MacLeod’s sake, that someone is interested in the music. But even if no one is, one thing is clear: Scott MacLeod is free.
Cameron Conant is the author of With or Without You and The Year I Got Everything I Wanted. A regular contributor to several magazines, he lives in Nashville, Tenn.