Things are changing in Davis Bottom, but one thing remains constant: the Nathaniel United Methodist Mission, which has served the needy and overshadowed residents of that neighborhood since the 1930s, will adapt.
As of today, most of the mission's keepsakes and worldly goods will be boxed and moved from its longtime home on DeRoode Street to 1109 Versailles Road, Suite 600. It's a temporary site, but it allows the mission to keep its doors open. It was forced to move because of construction on the Newtown Pike Extension, which will give commuters a shorter route to South Limestone. By late May, the mission's long-term home will be in Suite 400 at the Versailles Road address, which is being renovated.
"They should start hanging drywall Monday," said the Rev. David MacFarland, pastor at the mission, which gets to move twice. "And we're waiting on plumbing to start."
And quite a move it has been so far.
In the past couple of months, the mission has merged its free medical clinic for the uninsured with that of Mission Lexington, which also serves the uninsured and working poor. The merger was necessary because more and more of their uninsured patients were being insured under the nation's new health care law, and fewer clients were coming to each mission, MacFarland explained.
Patients from Nathaniel Mission were transferred to Mission Lexington around the first of March. "And it has gone really well," said Chris Skidmore, executive director of Mission Lexington. "We are pleased with the caliber of their providers. We are thankful they chose us."
Two medical clinic workers from Nathaniel Mission have also transferred. Because their salaries were already budgeted until Dec. 31, Nathaniel Mission is continuing to pay them until then.
Nathaniel Mission will now focus more on wellness and prevention, MacFarland said. "When we were in the clinic business, we were good at treating your cuts," he said. "Now we want to make sure you don't get cut in the first place."
Most of the medical problems for the population the mission served can be boiled down to diabetes and hypertension. The mission will retain its dental, vision and podiatry clinics under the wellness focus.
The dental offices, however, will be moved to 216 South Limestone, where Mission Lexington's dental clinic was located before its dental and medical clinics united at 230 South Martin Luther King Boulevard last year.
"All the plumbing was already in place," MacFarland said. "We could move in over a weekend."
Nathaniel Mission's three extra dental chairs are needed in Lexington, Skidmore said. "We are seeing a slight decrease in our medical clinic," he said, "but the dental need is still pretty vast. We still have a very, very long waiting list. The city could use six more of us."
Nathaniel Mission's other programs, including the food market, clothing bank, Christmas project and diabetes education and support classes, will continue at the new Versailles Road location. Hot meals will be served on Wednesday and Sunday evenings and Sunday mornings.
The board hasn't decided if the mission will move back to Davis Bottom when the road construction is completed. The board has the option to do that in five years, when it is estimated that the construction will be completed.
But MacFarland noted the population in Davis Bottom has changed and will change even more with the new single and multi-family housing that is planned there.
MacFarland is retiring at the end of June, which leaves the door open for a new leader for this new phase for the mission.
"For the mission to continue, it needs to go to the next level," MacFarland said. "And for that you probably need to bring in someone new."
To start that transition, the mission is hosting a leave-taking service, MacFarland said. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, it is described as the de-consecration of the property, he said. There will be testimonials and witnessing by people who have benefited from the mission. And the Lord's Supper will be served, he said.
Nathaniel Mission will survive the changes because it will always focus on the same demographic. There was a time, MacFarland said, when the mission had a kindergarten, and then the state offered kindergarten. And there was a time when the mission's health clinic was primarily for children, he said, and then the state set up the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program, which offers free or low-cost health insurance for children.
"And, there was a time when we served this neighborhood completely," MacFarland said. "We are always going to the folks on the margin wherever we find them."