By Lonna Garai

It’s hard to believe that a year ago on Nov. 9, 2015, we gathered for our first meeting as a pastor selection committee. We were advised that it would take a year or two to accomplish this momentous task.

While cautious, we were sure that if we worked together and followed God’s guidance, He would provide His selected candidate, in an expeditious time frame.

Time frame was incredibly important to Queen Valley Baptist Church as we serve a community in which most residents are retired and are seasonal, two very important considerations in our timing.

In the past, summer attendance has been 20 or less, making it difficult to have the required number of decision makers present from April to October.

Furthermore, when our members leave in the spring with the best intentions of returning in the fall, age and health concerns often abruptly dictate unforeseen life changes. Some are not able to return.

With these considerations in our thoughts and in our prayers, we began the search for a pastor. We posted the position, we advertised in all the typical places. We met once, twice or more each week to pray and review our progress.

We also worried that, as a small church with a small budget, we might not be attractive to full-time pastoral candidates. But we also recognized that we just needed one special man of God.

God showed us how low our expectations were!

We received numerous resumes of very qualified candidates, we interacted with nearly all of them and we were thankful for such a wonderful group.

Out of the group of potential pastors for us, one candidate was brought to our attention many times in many different circumstances. The selection of that candidate, Pastor Rick Luster, was made in early March 2016 in answer to our many prayers.

We thought that once this was done the work would be winding down as we prepared for Easter Sunday. For then, the migration of many of our congregation to cooler climates would begin.

Boy were we wrong!

Pastor Rick asked if he could start immediately so that he could have three Sundays with the congregation prior to their northern/eastern migration. Next, he asked that we hold a Bible Conference March 23-26, in preparation for Easter. Under his leadership, we immediately began work on making it a high attendance Sunday.

While many were not used to responding at this accelerated pace, it was well received and everyone got to work. In preparation for welcoming new attendees, a welcome plan was made for greeting visitors and keeping them comfortable.

Following that came the plan to clean all the church carpets and pews on Friday (March 16) to freshen up the church before Easter.

After all of these came our church’s more traditional plans: Sunday potluck, Easter sunrise service, parking and logistics for Easter. All of this in less than three weeks, and we were just getting started.

As we have moved forward into the summer, the attendance has remained between 30 and 45 per Sunday, which is very significant for Queen Valley Baptist Church.

This enthusiasm has continued with both the Wednesday night Bible study in Queen Valley and the Tuesday night Bible study which is held in Florence at The Windmill, with some in the congregation attending both. During this time, Joyce Rice, pastor selection committee chair, began a Tuesday morning prayer meeting, which has continued to grow and meet needs.

Also, we have many in our church congregation who spend summers in Michigan. Pastor Rick held a Bible conference with some of them and their friends in Michigan, another great opportunity for outreach and sharing.

Within the past two weeks, while we were trying to help one of the ladies purchase a used washer and dryer, the Lord led Queen Valley Baptist to a very-slightly-used, beautiful grand piano for the church sanctuary — and it was very affordable. This was one more evidence that God continues to bless our church at every turn.

With all of this outreach of love and Christian care, we as a congregation have learned more about our parishioners, some of whom are struggling with pain or medical challenges that in many cases is life altering. Getting to know more about their needs has allowed our church to grow in Christ by experiencing the power of prayer for the health and healing of those among us. This has brought special blessings to all those who have prayed for, and those who have experienced, the healing power of prayer.

This has both enhanced the closeness of the people in the congregation and deepened their desire to grow in the Lord. This is quite extraordinary, given the age demographic of the congregation and the diversity of their religious backgrounds and experiences.

As always, “the Lord works on the hearts of his people in mysterious ways.” Could we have ever anticipated this or made a plan like this a year ago, as we started on this journey? Not a chance!

However, with the Lord leading the way, we are finding new opportunities around every bend in the road. We praise God!