Easter 2021: A day of hope and renewal for Arizona Southern Baptist churches
Apr 13, 2021
By Irene A. Harkleroad
Easter is synonymous with resurrection, a day that gives believers hope for the future and the faith that God is, indeed, in control.
Easter 2021 proved to be a type of resurrection for churches — a coming to life again with a new freedom, a new dedication and a new excitement.
After more than a year of COVID-related restrictions, believers came out in surprising numbers. Christians were able to gather in buildings without penalty.
Dedicated staff members and volunteers worked feverishly for weeks preparing for whatever God had planned, all the while praying more believers would return to fellowship.
Their prayers were answered. Many Arizona Southern Baptist churches held multiple services throughout the weekend. In some places, parking lots were lined with chairs, while other places, members and guests worshipped in parks.
Some churches throughout the state shared resources to reach a greater number of followers and seekers. They all have stories to tell of God’s favor.
“We had a full house (85 people) for a 7 a.m. combined language sunrise service, including about 10 that I haven’t seen in person in more than a year,” said Jason Ingle, pastor of Tucson Chinese Baptist Church. “I led a combined adult Sunday School and witnessed encouraging cross-generational interaction. God is moving and He is gracious.”
Ingle also preached for a midtown Good Friday unity service in partnership with nearby Presbyterian and United Methodist churches.
“Things are starting to change,” said Chad Garrison, pastor of Calvary, Lake Havasu City. “This was the first weekend with more people on-site (2,500) than online (1,600). Like most, we had our best COVID crowd and baptized 20. People are getting more comfortable and are returning after they receive the vaccine.”
First Country Baptist Church in Surprise has been meeting together since June 2020 but 25% of pre-COVID attendees have yet to return.
“Not sure if we set an attendance record since COVID, but we ran out of bulletins,” said Pastor Jon Potts. A total of 105 people attended Good Friday, Somber Saturday and Resurrection Sunday services.
“We had decisions in each service, including those who came forward for salvation,” Potts said. “God blew me away with His blessings. It was super encouraging! Like a breath of fresh air blowing through!”
Children were a huge part of Easter celebrations at CityView Church in Glendale. Thirteen new families checked into CityKids, the children’s ministry. Pastor Jeremiah Semmler said people were very excited and happy to be together. He reflected on the joy and enthusiasm of children and helpful adults searching for 4,500 eggs.
“The best part: people my kids invited came to church,” Semmler said. “That really encouraged their faith.”
Easter at Aspire Church in Tucson started with an unexpected challenge. At 10 p.m. on Saturday, Pastor Brian Hook was completing his final check when he discovered the hot tub baptistry had deflated.
“I was as deflated as the Jacuzzi,” he said. “I drove to three stores to get a new one … with no luck. I called Jeff Vanderford, [pastor of] Authentic Life, to borrow his. He met me at his trailer around 11. I drove back and our team set it up at midnight. We knew God was going to do something in the morning.”
Aspire had its largest weekend attendance ever (190), two professions of faith and two baptisms. One woman had waited 16 years to be baptized, and a teenage girl the church had been praying for trusted Christ and was baptized that morning.
Pastor Josh Jennings at Aletheia Church, Sedona, said, “We were very encouraged. We were not expecting growth because of the culture of the area.”
God surprised the church with 238 people in attendance, six professions of faith, one baptism, four new families and 35 prospects.
Passion Creek, House of Transformation Kenyan, Haitian Christian Church and Heart Cry Cowboy Church are all plants of the Heart Cry Church family and celebrated Easter together on campus.
“Everyone is excited to be back,” said Heart Cry Pastor Billy Van Camp. “We baptized 11 believers and welcomed 60 new members. We are exponentially exploding! We love this!”
Their six services on Easter drew 1,700 to the building and another 2,375 online.
First Southern Baptist Church, Phoenix, shares their facilities with Relentless Church, Phoenix, and Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana. All three congregations worshipped together in the parking lot for the Sunday morning service led by Relentless.
”I have seen growing excitement to gather as things have loosened up,” said Bryson Isom, pastor of Relentless. “We estimate 200-300 attended. I believe it was a kingdom win for all three churches.”
Tierra Fertil, Yuma, celebrated Resurrection Sunday, as well as their 19th anniversary. There was abundant joy as 280 people fellowshipped and received communion in three services. Nine people were baptized.
“There was great enthusiasm in the atmosphere, since in 2020 we could not have our face-to-face Easter meeting,” said Pastor Josue Castro. “Due to the pandemic, that year we had to do it virtually.”
Tierra Fertil has continued to share its services live on YouTube and Facebook for families who still do not feel comfortable returning to church. With a reservation system in place for services, which are socially distanced, all of the Easter services were at capacity, and those without reservations were encouraged to watch online.
“I am happy to realize that more families have a greater willingness to congregate in their churches and experience doing church together and exalting the name of Christ with one voice,” said Castro, who is also the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention Hispanic ministries facilitator. “For all this, I thank God that, although we are returning to a new model, there is a desire in the congregation to be together again and people feel more confident in returning to church.”
Some of these churches are big and some are small. They all have varying levels of resources. But at the end of Easter weekend, through the cooperation and partnerships of these nine churches, nearly 10,000 men, women and children heard the story of the resurrection of Jesus.