The Church at Old Town providing hope through the holidays

Published 10:17 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

HELENA – As soon as the temperature drops to a cool, crisp Fall, we are thrown into the holiday season. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas rush by in a blur of festivities that lasts for three months, but feels like three minutes. While the holidays are a joyous occasion for some, it can be an often chaotic, stressful and even depressing time for others. The team at The Church at Old Town (TCAOT) in Helena is well aware of this fact, and they are more than happy to help the community with all holiday emotions.

Head Pastor of TCAOT Josh Knierim said with the slow return to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic, this holiday season is sure to be filled with different emotions as families reunite with or without loved ones. The highs and lows of arguably the busiest time of year can bring many fun-filled family events and even some more low-key remote festivities.

Knierim said TCAOT is placing their priority of community engagement at the forefront this holiday season, using different events to build relationships with everyone in the community.

TCAOT is partnered with the Shelby Baptist Association, and they partner together on many projects. Knierim said TCAOT is particularly looking forward to participating in this year’s Christmas Shoppe, helping collect toys for families and volunteering to help organize the event.

“This is a chance for families to come in and get items for their children,” Knierim said. “We’re big on family here. We want kids to have great memories and great experiences. I think parents have needs, of course, like food and shelter, but I think something all parents want is to be able to provide for their kids and their wellbeing. That’s a need we can meet through that ministry.”

TCAOT is also looking to be the Helena site for the Mobile Food Pantry that is organized by the Shelby Baptist Association, and Knierim wants to host a community gingerbread house decorating event that will get families involved in local Christmas activities.

Knierim said they’re working towards learning what the gaps are in what the community needs, and once those needs are met it will be easier to form a plan to meet those needs.

“We’re not at a point where we’re trying to blaze a new trail,” Knierim said. “What we want to do is come alongside the existing groups that are here and seeing what they do. A lot of churches come in and say, ‘We’re going to meet all of these different needs,’ but you don’t even know what the community’s needs are yet. We need to figure out exactly what the needs are in the community other than come up with some vague ideas of what might be helpful.”

To Knierim, inviting people into the church is more than building a relationship with God; it’s about building relationships with people who need to know they are cared for.

“If people know that you genuinely care about them, they may come to your church and they may not, but either way you have accomplished what you were called to do,” he said. “We are called to take care of the community. We want people to know they are loved and we care about them. They may not come back, but whether they do or not they know they have people here who care.”

“I think what we discovered over the last two years is the value for a genuine personal community,” Knierim said. “You need to have community, and you need to have people that you connect with. In isolating times, we were reminded how important that can be, and I think that’s one of the real blessings of a church.”

During the holidays, it’s reported that many people suffer from depression and a feeling of loneliness due to different circumstances. One of the things Knierim wants to accomplish with the church is connecting people with each other’s experiences, so you’re never really alone.

“As much as we like to think we’re the only ones suffering through something, there is almost always somebody right down the road who is in the same boat, and if you can connect those people, you’re suddenly not alone,” he said. “It empowers you to move forward and even let go of that feeling of loneliness.”

Knierim said with all of the chaos that permeates our everyday life, it is easy for a feeling of hopelessness to set in. There is, however, always hope.

“With the past couple of years especially, people are dying for a purpose,” he said. “They want to know their lives count, and what they’re doing is bringing value and meaning. They’re tired of wasting time in situations where they feel that’s not happening. I think that’s somewhere the church can fill that gap, and we can remind you that you do have a purpose and you were created for something special.”

Knierim emphasized that he does not want people to feel pressured to join the church, but more he wants them to know they always have a place of acceptance and love where the doors are always open.

“Your mission is really simple,” Knierim said. “Your mission is to love people really well, and part of loving people well is to share your faith with other people. To me, those are two things that give an idea of purpose and community.”