A simple request made during a routine stop was enough to prompt a response from Ray Amos Jr., pastor at St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Kingsport.
While pumping gas a few weeks ago, a man approached Amos and asked for a dollar so he could buy a cup of coffee.
“I happened to have a couple dollars extra in my billfold,” Amos said. “So I gave him what I had and he said, ‘God bless you.’ What he said told me he had some awareness of faith.”
The two began talking, and the pastor asked the man if he attended church.
“He told me he wouldn’t be welcome in any church around here,” Amos said. “And after hearing his story, I realized I’m just a paycheck away from that situation. And many of the people I know are as well.”
Amos told the man that he was a pastor and he’d be welcome at St. Matthew. But that wasn’t the end.
“That conversation haunted me for a while,” the pastor said. And he eventually mentioned the interchange during a sermon he preached on how people can reach out to their neighbors.
That’s when two members of St. Matthew began working with the pastor on a way to help some of the homeless people they encounter locally.
Richie Dean and Vicki Gaither are both singers and organizers of a “unique worship experience” at St. Matthew called Secondhand Shoes, which is held the second Sunday night of each month at 6 p.m. The service was dubbed Secondhand Shoes when one of its band members developed feet problems and could no longer wear his shoes, so he passed them on to Dean.
“I was looking at those shoes and I thought, ‘These are secondhand shoes and that’s kind of how we are,’” Dean explained. “When we’re born, we’re this new pair of shoes, all shiny, no scuffs and no stained shoe laces. But as we walk around, our shoes get dirty and broken and messed up. When we come to God, we’re like a pair of secondhand shoes. He takes those shoes and makes something new out of them.”
The Secondhand Shoes service is for anybody, regardless of how they look or their economic situation. Dean said the service was a good fit for a new ministry. Offerings given during the Secondhand Shoes services pay to fill gallon-sized Ziploc bags. A “Hello, My Name Is” sticker is placed on the bag, with the word “Friend” handwritten underneath. Inside the bags are items like bottled water, a granola bar, cheese or peanut butter crackers, a package of tuna with crackers, a rain poncho, a New Testament and some information about the church and Secondhand Shoes services.
Amos, Dean and Gaither put together 50 bags, and church members picked up the bags to keep in their vehicles to share as needed with any homeless person they meet. Amos said he hopes to see other churches or organizations do something similar because the concept is so simple.
“This isn’t going to solve all their problems,” Amos said. “This is to give them something filling to satisfy them until they can get more help. We can direct them to other places to give them more assistance. We work with Interfaith Hospitality Network, Kitchen of Hope, and Help and Hope Food Pantry.
“This is mainly to give someone some hope and to let them know someone cares,” the pastor continued. “And this will make it easier for us to reach out to others and increase our comfort level in doing so.”
St. Matthew United Methodist Church is located at 2505 Nathan Street in Kingsport and is part of a parish that includes St. Luke and Emory UMC. Sunday worship services at St. Matthew begin at 9:30 a.m. followed by Sunday school classes at 10:45. For more information about the church, Secondhand Shoes or the Hello, My Name is Friend ministry, call 423-245-3033.
Unsung Heroes is a monthly feature recognizing local folks who work - often behind the scenes - to make a difference in the community. To suggest an individual or group for Unsung Heroes, email Sunday Stories editor Carmen Musick at email@example.com.