Right around the Fourth of July, the ministry of the Lakeside Branch in Arizona was faced with the question of reopening the branch for in-person Sunday services. Needless to say, the branch ministry put a lot of thought and prayer into deciding when to reopen and how.
This is how it happened for our group.
It was a blessing to connect virtually with our branch — and many others throughout the church — during the shutdown; however, it did not compare to seeing one another face to face. When we were given permission to open, we wanted to give those who were ready and willing the opportunity to meet.
Our re-opening theme was “Stay United.”
Presiding elder Brother Michael Watson says, “We felt that prioritizing in-person church was something that we needed to do. We had a strong desire to open the branch for anyone who felt ready to attend, while extending love and grace to those who decide to remain home.”
Even though the branch is open, we are continuing to Zoom in-person services.
Elder Brother Emil Palensar says, “I like the fact that now our branch is open both virtually and in person, so people who are vulnerable to the virus can stay home, be comfortable, and still be part of the meeting. But then the people who want to meet in person are able to do that as well.”
We have surely felt God’s liberty and blessing through the process and in our meetings, and He has kept us bound together in love.
Here is what some of our members have to say about the reopening:
“I knew that I was missing the fellowship, but we had been diligently meeting online, so we were still seeing each other, etc. So, I was taken off guard when I entered the building the first time and felt an instant sense of relief. It felt like I had just come to my parents’ home after being gone for much too long. Like that moment when you can take a full breath and peace fills your heart.” – Sister Rachel Cotellesse
“To be able to meet in person was something, I think, all of us were missing terribly. But that wasn’t the only thing that I was missing. Not being able to partake of communion was definitely number one on the list. I also think fellowshipping with the saints helps to keep our core group connected. For our branch, our main purpose is to do outreach to the White Mountain Apache people. The shutdown of the reservation made it impossible to fully communicate on a one-on-one, face-to-face level, even though many had the opportunity to participate on Zoom. Another plus of reopening is to be able to have the brothers preach to the congregation, allowing the Spirit of God to flow more freely. I also love being able to sing with the congregation.” – Sister Cheryl Smith
“The thing I missed the most about meeting in person was singing with my brothers and sisters. I never realized how much I enjoyed it.” – Sister Kathy Palensar
“It seemed like a long time we were separated. I believe interaction with others by phone or text helped a lot.” – Sister Joann Cotellesse
“Longing for the gathering — so happy to return to the branch building and the total experience of service together as a people, participating in the communion, singing, and fellowship. Had no apprehension whatsoever. I so missed being together, our communion, the singing. So much joy seeing the children with us. Thankful returning to the more intimate service. Grateful we have the Zoom opportunity but nothing replaces the opportunity to experience the spirit and blessing of being united.” – Apostle Brother Ike Smith
“So grateful to be meeting in person vs. virtually. Definitely missed the interaction with the saints, and secondly my children sit through the sermon at church much better than at home.” – Sister Amy King
“I was so happy when I found out we were able to meet in person again. Although I was grateful for the ability to meet virtually, I found I could be easily distracted. I wasn’t worried at all about reopening. I was just happy to be back in our building.” – Sister Shaunna Hawkins
We thank God that He allowed us to stay united (true to our reopening theme) and for the reopening to happen in an orderly, peaceful manner.
Here’s what Lakeside members have to say to those who are still waiting for their branches to reopen:
“Know that God has everything under His care and control.” – Sister Rachel
“Jump on Zoom meetings as often as you can until you are allowed to meet with each other.” – Sister Joann
“Give your ministry a lot of grace and pray for them!” – Sister Michelle Watson
“Hang in there and it will be a joyous homecoming, and I pray that can happen for everyone soon.” – Sister Shaunna
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.