Kentucky Congregation Puts Community First this Christmas
By Megan DeBruyn
As the days grow chillier and the Advent season unfolds before us, many churches launch a special sermon series or begin lighting a symbolic candle each week. But First Church of God in Winchester, Kentucky, is hitting the streets. Why? Because they believe in being the church rather than simply coming to church.
This past Sunday—the first on the Advent calendar—during regular service time, the First Church of God congregation ventured out into the community for the annual Impact Clark County event. Armed with “blessing bags,” each of which contains a twenty-dollar gift card, information about the church, a prayer from the pastor, and Christmas treats, they were able to meet their neighbors and gift them in some small way.
Megan, a self-proclaimed Grinch, was one of the many community members who was especially touched by the experience. “A sweet lady approached me at the gas station and said she was from First Church of God and wanted to bless me,” Megan recalls. “I guess you could say that this Grinch’s heart grew two sizes. With tears in my eyes I gave this lady a big hug, because I was touched deeply by an unbelievable act of human kindness that reminded me what Christmas was all about.”
Senior Pastor Allan Hutchinson is passionate about leading his congregation to reach their community beyond the four walls of the church. In this way, the motivation for Impact Clark County is twofold, because it moves the First Church of God congregation to actively love their neighbors, just as it offers the unchurched community a unique experience of being blessed. “Everyone should experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ at Christmas,” he says. “Regardless of financial need, we want to bless as many people as possible with a simple gift. Truly the goal of Impact is to love like Christ.”
The timing of this event on the first Sunday in Advent is also very intentional. “We feel it best demonstrates the message of Christ’s love in coming to our world,” says Pastor Allan. Additionally, since it takes place during the Sunday morning service, the congregation is able to specifically minister to community members who aren’t regular church-goers.
“In the world we live in today, people have grown accustomed to being judged and condemned,” Pastor Allan says, “but when we love them unconditionally, it allows the Holy Spirit to touch their lives.” He believes deeply in the power of community outreach events like Impact Clark County because it gives his congregation a fresh perspective of what Jesus meant when he said we love God best as we are loving others.
Judith was another among the community members who felt the impact of God’s profound yet simple love. A mother of six and grandmother of twenty-six, Judith is especially anxious this time of year about the daunting task of preparing Christmas dinner for her entire family. “I don’t know why we stopped at Kroger in Winchester until three of God’s angels came up to us and wished us Merry Christmas and handed us two blessing bags,” Judith remembers. “Forty dollars in gift cards may not seem like much to many, but for my husband and me with a fixed income and large family, it was a fortune. Thank you, God,” she says, “And merry Christmas.”
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