Avondale Baptist Church celebrates, embraces change

Mar 29, 2021

By Deborah Leuthold
Photos by Lorissa Marslender

As churches regrouped after the onset of COVID-19 in February 2020, they found ways to do things differently. Now, a year later, Avondale Baptist Church says they have much to celebrate.

“We saw a lot of good things happen,” says Avondale Pastor Jack Marslender. “Our people responded to the call to change the way we do church. Change is not always welcomed in a Baptist church,” he adds with a smile.

At first, the church discontinued services and began an online approach to worship services, prayer meetings and church-sponsored activities. Although prayer meeting more than doubled in attendance, not everything lent itself to an online solution.

“We’re not doing everything we used to do,” Marslender says. “We couldn’t continue our basketball program, IHELP ministry [to the homeless] or Mission of Mercy [medical clinic], to name a few, and we’ve adjusted to COVID guidelines in other ministries, like our parenting resource center, making it a no-contact operation.”

The day did come when the church reopened for church services and Sunday School, where social distancing is practiced and members are asked to wear masks.

“We shortened the services to 45 minutes, including doing a no-contact Lord’s Supper,” Marslender says. “We also closed off every other pew in the sanctuary and each is sanitized between services.”

They also offer Zoom gatherings for men’s and women’s Bible studies.

A 10 a.m. Monday senior adults service is for those who want to come to church but are not comfortable in crowds.

The Avondale Baptist Church praise team leads in worship for the online service, which is recorded on Thursday afternoons.

“It is one of five worship services we offer each week,” Marslender says. “We have three services on Sunday, and we tape the online service Thursdays. One of the Sunday services is also livestreamed.”

Long-time member Bessie Mae Backer, 86, says she is not the only one happy for the Monday service.

“It means so much to the older people to know the pastor and staff care enough about us to have this service,” Backer says. “For some, this is the only place they go during the week. Many do not have families involved in their lives, and they need the fellowship.”

Backer is also pleased with the music.

“It’s all hymns, and we sing them in a key low enough for all of us,” she says with a laugh.

But that isn’t the only change in worship, led by Mary Kaye Wonner, minister of worship and women’s ministry leader.

“With COVID, we could no longer have the choir on stage,” she says. “The praise team is small enough to maintain social distancing. The team is faithful to lead in four of the services.”

The women’s and men’s Bible studies have also adjusted to Zoom meetings rather than meeting in person, and an unexpected thing happened.

“Zoom has allowed us to expand our reach to other churches in Arizona and beyond,” Wonner says. “It is something we never envisioned … but God! We have people joining us from places like Germany and the Dominican Republic.”

Another adjustment was made this year for the annual bake sale and chili contest to support the benevolence fund. The pastor and chairman of the deacons had a friendly competition during February to see who could raise the most money. The loser, who was Marslender, had to sing a solo in church.

“We also don’t hand out bulletins or pass the plate,” Marslender says. We have a QR code on the back of pews for people to access the bulletin on their cell phones, and all giving is now online. It’s been a blessing to see our members maintain their giving. Many were already giving online, and others have joined.”

Members say they look forward to a time when the church can get back to things pre-COVID, but that doesn’t mean everything will be business as usual.

Both Marslender and Wonner agree, God showed them new ways to do things, and everyone came together in one accord. Only God could have accomplished that!

Deborah Leuthold, a freelance writer living in Litchfield Park, is a member of Avondale Baptist Church.

Lorissa Marslender is a member of Avondale Baptist Church and is living in Litchfield Park.

Next steps

—What changes could be made in your church that would further the gospel?

—Pray and ask God to show you collectively what could be improved.

—Welcome the challenges God puts in the path of your church. See them as opportunities, rather than negatives, to see Him work everything for His good pleasure and will.

—Pray for unity in making those changes.

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