Joy in the Morning - Grace Kids

September 11, 2023

Joy in the Morning Grace Kids

Joy in the Morning: Grace Kids gets a new look, new location, new life

By Alan Wild
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A year ago, steadily worsening violent crime in Louisville was casting an alarming shadow over the future of Grace Kids: A Church for Children.

But now – thanks to a new and blossoming partnership with Epworth United Methodist Church, the six-year-old church for children previously based in a challenged neighborhood in Louisville’s south end – has a new look, a new location, and a new lease on life. And its pastor, the Rev. Corey Nelson, couldn’t be happier.

“We really landed in a fantastic situation,” he said recently. “Out of something bad came something really, really good.”

Nelson was appointed pastor of Epworth – another church on Louisville’s south end – effective July 1, 2023. But he’s also still pastor of Grace Kids. Epworth is physically only about four miles from the former Grace Kids location, but situated in a much safer, stable neighborhood.

“That was the big question that everyone kept asking me at Annual Conference: ‘What’s happening with Grace Kids?’” Nelson said. “I told them, ‘It’s going with me.’”

It’s a win-win-win situation for Grace Kids, Epworth – and for Nelson himself.

“We’ve worked strategically to make sure the ministry continues,” said the Rev. Dr. John Hatton, superintendent of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Heartland District, which includes Louisville.

“I think Corey and I both felt very strongly that it should continue. Corey’s built trust with these children, and you can’t just abandon them as a church, especially when you’ve built trust.”

Logistically, having the Grace Kids worship on Sunday morning with the Epworth community hasn’t been much different from before. Nelson and his wife, Rickelle, were already picking up most of the children in the church van, delivering them to church, then taking them home afterward. That system has continued at Epworth, he said.

The kids arrived at Epworth just in time to get immersed in Vacation Bible School, the Grace Kids meal train is again up and running (click here) to sign up to help with meals), and they have relaunched the Friday “Fun Night” ministry in Epworth’s Family Life Center, a building adjacent to the main church that includes a large gymnasium – a perfect venue for the children and teens.

“The way they’ve been embraced here by the Epworth congregation has been amazing,” Nelson said.

The furnishings at the former location at 900 Denmark St. are gradually being moved to Epworth – including a gaga pit that Bishop Leonard Fairley surprised the children with in 2019. Because of its size and design, the gaga pit will be a challenging move, but in the meantime, the smaller furnishings such as tables, chairs, sound equipment, and such are being moved to the new location, a carload at a time.

The gymnasium includes an elevated level with a walking track where Nelson and his team are setting up tables and chairs from “The Hangout,” a room in the old building that is being rechristened “The Lookout” at the new location. Nelson sees The Lookout as “playing a big role in the ministry.”

Relocating Grace Kids has also been good for Epworth, which lost a number of regular attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson said. Church attendance had dwindled to 30-40 but has begun to grow again, he said, in part bolstered by the infusion of children from Grace Kids. By early August, they were averaging about 75 on Sunday morning, he said.

Despite all the positives, Nelson concedes that the move has been an adjustment for him and also for the children, who miss the 900 Denmark location.

“You can still feel the magic in that place. But I think we can re-create new magic here.”

Joy in the Morning is a twice-monthly feature highlighting glory sightings around the Kentucky Annual Conference. Look for it in your inbox the second and fourth Mondays of the month at 6 a.m. Eastern/5 a.m. Central.

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