By Elizabeth Young

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona Southern Baptist churches found creative ways to continue worship and discipleship activities while starting or ramping up benevolence ministries and outreach.

Here are a few examples. Much more will be shared in the July-August issue of Portraits.

Worship and Discipleship

Some Arizona Southern Baptist churches already streamed their worship services online before Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Others jumped in and learned along the way to stream services via Facebook Live or Facebook Premiere, YouTube and their websites.

As the weeks progressed, some opted for shorter-than-usual services crafted for an at-home audience, with pastors preaching from offices or other settings rather than the normal worship center platform. Some also reported greater viewing audiences than their normal in-person attendance, helped in some cases by church members hosting Facebook Watch Parties and inviting their friends.

Cross Church, Surprise, tracked professions of faith and made contacts for follow up by asking viewers to text “I said yes” to a specific number at the invitation time.

Services of several churches featured baptisms prerecorded and in keeping with social distancing guidelines. As of April 15, Calvary Baptist Church, Lake Havasu City, had baptized 26 people since the shutdown began.

In place of Sunday School or children’s church, several churches, including Mountain Ridge Church in Glendale, Cross Church in Surprise and Northern Hills, offered weekly videos for children and their families that featured a Bible story and activities.

Pastoral staff from at least three churches, Calvary in Lake Havasu City, Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix and the Valley Life network of churches, offered daily devotional videos online.

Men’s, women’s, teens and children’s Sunday School and discipleship groups in churches of all sizes learned to meet via Zoom, and at least one smaller church, Every Tribe & Nation in Mesa, used Zoom for a more connected Sunday worship experience.

Outreach and Benevolence

Several churches focused ministries and prayers on essential workers, including those in health care.      

A caravan of 58 cars descended on three Phoenix-area hospitals for an Easter afternoon prayer drive conducted by Apollo Baptist Church, Glendale. At Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, they delivered 800 sub sandwiches for the staff.

CityView, Phoenix, bought lunch for medical professionals and delivered 100 handmade cards and notes to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

Mountain Ridge, Glendale, posted an ever-growing prayer wall on Facebook, asking members to send in photos and first names (after obtaining permission) of hospital workers, law enforcement personnel, grocery and food service workers, truck drivers and others who are “making sacrifices every day to care for their community.”

Groups in several churches cranked up their sewing machines to produce masks.

The Women On Mission at 22nd Street Baptist Church, Tucson, made about 200 masks for Caring Ministries to use for employees and volunteers and to give to others in need. Demand for food at Caring Ministries has skyrocketed.

About 10 people from The Church at Arrowhead, Glendale, made 105 masks that were delivered to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West. As of April 21, they had about 50 more in the production pipeline.

As of April 21, the Mask Making Estrella Ladies Facebook group, a ministry of The Church at Estrella, Goodyear, had taken and fulfilled 1,200 orders for free masks for people in the community in about 10 days. The masks, left in a box on one member’s doorstep for pickup, come packaged with a card about the church and sometimes a note.

In another outreach, The Church at Estrella engaged the services of an ice cream truck to drive in the church’s neighborhood for four hours offering free ice cream as a gift from the church.

The Valley Life churches in the metropolitan Phoenix area launched ValleyLifeHelps.com to connect those needing help with people who could lend a hand. As of April 22, almost 30 people had requested help, and 113 had signed up to help.

Valley Life members made 910 masks for medical personnel and first responders, and all the Valley Life churches started food pantries. With Valley Life — North Mountain taking the lead, the churches worked together to deliver nonperishable food items to the families of students at Sunnyslope Elementary School.

First Baptist Church, Stanfield, which has operated a food pantry for more than 10 years, saw a tremendous increase in requests and added a day to their twice-a-month schedule in April. The Arizona Food Bank Network was instrumental in providing help from the National Guard, and on the first two distribution days in April, they provided 1,057 boxes of food for 876 families, which included 2,605 people.

Black Mountain Baptist Church, Cave Creek, launched LoveAZ, a sharing pantry offering household resources to the community. In addition, they made two deliveries of diapers to New Life Pregnancy Center.

Heart Cry Church, Queen Creek, held a diaper drive and delivered boxes and boxes of diapers to New Life Pregnancy Center.