Downtown church ministers to homeless community
By Kristin E. Van Nort, The Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation
A few blocks in any direction from downtown, a homeless community can be found in Oklahoma City. During the day, there are services and meal programs for those impoverished.
OKC-First United Methodist Church saw an opportunity to minister during a different time period to those in need.
The downtown church offers "Friday Night Alive," an evening program especially for its homeless neighbors. The weekly service includes worship, prayer, food, and fellowship.
"We provide a safe, comfortable environment; a respite from the dangers of the street life; encouragement, friendship, worship, and prayer," said Mary Walbert, coordinator.
Walbert recognizes many in the homeless community do not feel comfortable in churches on a Sunday morning due to their clothing and appearance.
Friday Night Alive began as an idea more than two years ago, when First Church hosted City Care, a local organization that used the church’s facilities to provide a daily hot breakfast to the downtown homeless community.
Walbert volunteered at the breakfast on a few days each week and had the opportunity to give the devotion. In those volunteer moments, she heard God’s call to begin a First UMC ministry for the homeless.
"God opened doors for us to begin the Friday evening service," said Walbert. "However, this ministry would not be possible without our pastor Mark McAdow’s heart and support and the support of our church.
"Isaiah 61 is our mission statement, and we are working to live out the Scripture through action and love."
To begin Friday Night Alive, First Church received a Petree Grant from the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation, and a family in the church matched the grant, providing more funds.
Grant funds helped purchase coats, sleeping bags, socks, gloves, hats, and personal items to be distributed as needed. The money also provides for a healthy evening meal.
As volunteers and people in need have connected during Friday Night Alive, Walbert said, some individuals have been helped to find jobs and housing.
"When it happens to one, it trickles down to others. When they see he or she can do it, it gives hope," said Walbert.
"This ministry is like forming a family—an extended family—just like most of us experience on Sunday mornings at our churches."
Since 1996, the Petree Endowment Fund has awarded more than $1 million in grants to Oklahoma United Methodist ministries and churches.
The grant deadline is Sept. 15. Applications are now available on the Foundation’s website, www.okumf.org. For more information, contact Barbara Gayle at the Foundation, 800-259-6863.