Arise event adapts for ‘such a time…’

Oct 21, 2020

By Johanna Willett

Women gather for Arise, held at the Red Rock High School football field in Sedona.

The weekend of the first-ever Arise AZ Women’s Conference, women from around Arizona gathered on a Sedona football field to reconnect with each other and God.

The weekend — Oct. 2-3 — included all of the usual conference things: Nationally recognized speakers Vicki Courtney, Kathy Litton and Catherine Renfro sharing about gospel life change; a band from Aletheia Church leading worship; and women from around the state teaching breakout sessions.

Of course, most of that happened not inside as originally planned, but under pop-up tents, with women spread out on bleachers and folding chairs, umbrellas held high to block the sun.

When Shannon Jennings, the chair of the Arise planning team, first brought the idea of a new women’s conference to Arizona Southern Baptist Convention leadership in the summer of 2019, it had been many years since the state convention had held a women’s event, said Executive Director David Johnson. He and Eddy Pearson, AZSBC evangelism and discipleship facilitator, gave the go-ahead for the new conference.

“For me, the value is women come and join together with other women, they’re encouraged in their faith, they find common ground and are able to identify with one another and grow in the Lord and then go home encouraged to live out their faith,” Johnson said.

A name and theme were selected to express the desire to equip and connect women with God and each other — Arise AZ Women’s Conference: Women Rising Up for Such a Time as This, based on Esther 4:14. Of course, in the closing months of 2019, no one could have imagined how much the phrase “such a time as this” would resonate come 2020.

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue changed from an indoor auditorium to the Sedona Red Rock High School football field, masks became a requirement for the indoor breakout sessions and hand sanitizer was suddenly a must-have.

“We talked about virtual conferences and we talked about canceling altogether,” Jennings said. “And we thought that if we could at least try it outside, since it was October and Sedona, that would be an option for us.”

About 50 volunteers from Aletheia Church — the church Jennings and her husband, Josh, planted — rallied to pack conference bags, prepare individually packaged lunches and more. Including volunteers, Jennings estimated about 475 people from around the state attended Arise. A number of women accepted Christ as Savior.

“I think it’s really valuable for us as Jesus followers to hear and learn and know how God is working in other congregations,” said Erica Wiggenhorn, a breakout session speaker from Desert Springs Community Church in Goodyear. “It inspires you to rise up — to arise — and take your place and fulfill your assignment in this global kingdom.”

Already, women can register for Arise 2021, sponsored by the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

“I pray that life change happens for the women who accepted Christ at the event,” Jennings said, “and that from Sedona to across the state, we’ll see where lives were changed in our own, personal communities because of the impact of the Holy Spirit.”

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