Homeless ministry of small Utah church making national news
For more than 20 years, Bountiful Community United Church of Christ in Bountiful, Utah, has been an active partner of Family Promise, a transitional housing program that helps local homeless families get back on their feet. The small congregation, which draws about 40 members to worship on Sundays, never expected their efforts would garner the attention of the national media. But their contributions will soon be featured on a special episode of the ABC news program 20/20 documenting homelessness in America and the way different organizations throughout the country are responding to the problem.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that a tiny church can’t do big things for God,” said the Rev. Sharyl Peterson, pastor of Bountiful Community UCC. “It was fun, and a wonderful example of how even tiny churches like ours can make great ministry happen in the community.”
Through Family Promise, Bountiful Community UCC serves as a temporary housing location for members of the area’s homeless population four weeks each year. The church hosts 15 to 18 people at a time, providing shelter, meals and a sense of community. More than half of the church’s membership is somehow involved with the program – some are overnight hosts, some do cooking and cleanup, others wash linens, and one man even volunteers to blow up all of the air mattresses.
“We have a lot of people over age 70, but they all seem to find places to plug in,” Peterson said.
A reporter from ABC – who Peterson said happened to be a UCC member – visited Bountiful UCC on March 12, during a week the church was hosting families from Family Promise. She filmed footage of the preparation, consumption and cleanup of the evening’s meal, as well as an impromptu birthday celebration for one of the Family Promise guests, complete with cake and ice cream. The reporter also interviewed most of the church’s volunteers and the Family Promise guests willing to talk about their experiences with the program.
“She interviewed practically all of us who were there, and got lots of footage and conversation,” Peterson said.
Through Family Promise, clients also receive life skills training, such as budgeting and how to open and maintain a bank account. Because of this, and through collaboration with organizations like Bountiful Community UCC, the organization celebrates an 80-percent success rate of clients who go on to find permanent housing. As for the 20/20 program, Peterson said she does not yet know when it will air, but when it does, the church will have something else to celebrate.
“We will invite our partners to come and view the program,” she said, “and have a big party.”
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