Overlooked amid Outbreak: Kentucky Church Ensures Homeless Not Forgotten
By Carl Stagner
When the coronavirus crisis enveloped the United States and Canada, numerous other topics were tabled and services sidelined. COVID-19 became the major concern at hand, as the spotlight seemed to shine on medical staff and other frontline workers, the elderly and other at-risk individuals, as well as students and families affected by school shutdowns. Though other missional issues haven’t garnered the attention they once had, homelessness is a problem that persists, and the homeless are certainly still among us. Clay City First Church of God in Clay City, Kentucky, is one congregation making sure the “least of these” are not overlooked amid the outbreak.
Clay City, Kentucky, in the heart of the Appalachian foothills, is home to an estimated one thousand people. The rural region is not known for homelessness, at least not in the same manner as larger cities. For most of Clay City’s history, to be homeless meant you were securing temporary housing with family or friends, especially while looking for a steadier place to live or finding a job. Over time, the drug trade began to affect the area, attracting more and more transient “residents.”
Pastor Brad Epperson, of Clay City First Church of God, recalls the story this way: “About two years ago, I began hearing reports that there were a handful of people who were living under the river bridge in the middle of Clay City. I even had a local police officer reach out to me for help in finding a shelter he could offer to transport them to. Our county has no such shelter, and it turned out that none of [the homeless] were willing to be taken to the next county.”
The issue caught the attention of community and church leaders, who recognized something had to be done. As it turns out, there were many more homeless living in makeshift encampments than anyone knew. “These included not only those passing through,” Brad explains, “but also people from our own community who had become so isolated from family and friends that they were living outside.”
Thankfully, the answer came as these concerned citizens recently came together to form Powell County Homeless Coalition. While they’ve not yet been able to establish a shelter, they realized they couldn’t wait to lend a helping hand. A church situated near the bulk of the homeless camps made its fellowship hall available for the community to use as a daily meal-serving facility for seventy-five to a hundred individuals. Among other local churches and organizations, Clay City First Church of God now volunteers twice a month to prepare and serve food, as well as dine with the homeless community—when COVID-19 restrictions are not in place, of course.
“We continue to do this because we understand that hunger and deprivation are an ongoing fact of life for these folks,” Brad explains, “whether or not there is a pandemic. At the present time, due to the pandemic, those we serve are given a warm greeting and a plate of food, but are not able to enjoy that meal in the dining hall. While we love meeting these folks and feeding them, we’re certainly looking forward to the time when we can sit at the table with them and hear their stories and share the love of God more directly. And, of course, we anticipate the day that perhaps we will sit with them at a better table, in the full light of the Son of God, and spend eternity in the breaking of heavenly bread.”
Pastor Brad describes the church’s motivation to serve, even in the pandemic, as summarized in the “loving-one-another” message of 1 John 4:7. This love is reflected in other missional efforts of the church, including Celebrate Recovery and the hosting of worship services in the local jail.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.