Young Arizona church plant creatively ministers during COVID-19

By Deborah Leuthold

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When the COVID-19 pandemic began and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order, members of The Church at Estrella prayed and asked God how to “do church.” They could no longer meet in Westar Elementary School where the 2-year-old church had been meeting for regular church services.

Like many churches, they were looking for ways to serve their community and didn’t miss a beat in incorporating the network of contacts that had already been established and harnessing, organizing and missionizing the wide array of creativity within that network through a strong online presence. After all, the church is not a building—it is the people.

“Our purpose is to bring light into darkness,” said Charles Scheffe, pastor of The Church at Estrella. “We prayed and knew God would do what God does—provide the inspiration, direction and wherewithal to connect in meaningful ways with those in our community.”

Some of the sewers, cutters, admins, and bias makers of the Mask Masking Ladies of Estrella. From left to right in the photos: Yesenia Tobar, Michele Baxter, Barbara Cook, Erin Meyers, Joan Turner, LaRey Bond, Roxanne Hopkins, Debbie Sevey, Becky Pearson, Veruska Santos, Katy Va Wyk, Trish Garland and Eliza Duncan. Not pictured are DeAnn Kichline (who has made 367 masks) and Pam Wodrich (admin), as well as missing 9 bias making ladies. Photo provided by The Church at Estrella.

When Scheffe claimed he was not creative, he was being humble. Through the already established groups that initially served the purposes of Bible study and support in general, the ideas for how to connect with people started coming in.

“Our community does not have all the typical needs you may hear about in the news,” Scheffe said. “As we worked together, we came up with some ideas that have been fruitful in connecting with people in our community.”

An idea of supplying free, homemade masks to the community sprang out of a comment made on one of the neighborhood’s online chat groups. Someone needed a protective mask for a family member. The church’s already vibrant women’s groups answered.

“We have an online women’s community group, and we’re connected to other community Facebook groups,” said LaRey Bond, organizer of several community groups whose primary purpose is helping others. She and her husband and three daughters discovered The Church at Estrella through a free soccer event more than a year ago and have been key members in the church ever since.

“When someone posted they needed a mask, we asked, ‘Who can help?’” Bond said. “Someone answered, ‘I can make a mask,’ and from there it became a way to reach out to our community. There are more than 15 of us that make the masks.”

Healthcare workers at an adult care facility are grateful for the masks they received from the Mask Making Ladies of Estrella, a team made up of members at the Southern Baptist church plant called The Church at Estrella in Goodyear, Ariz. Photo provided by The Church at Estrella.

The response was so robust that the group required significant administration to organize. Another member, Erin Meyers, brought her head for numbers and spreadsheets to the table, and the group became even more productive.

The women have systematized into a well-oiled machine called the Mask Making Ladies of Estrella, also the name of their public Facebook group where they take requests. Some cut the material, others make the ties and others complete the product.

In less than a month, they have sewn and given away more than 1,500 masks, mostly to their community. Some, however, have left the state for California, Ohio, Texas, New York and to Alpha Company 347 Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga. These requests came from people living in the Estrella Mountain Ranch community.

“We put the masks, packaged and labeled with people’s names, in a bin on my front porch,” Bond said. “People come by and take what they’ve ordered. It’s all free, but we’ve received more than $1,000 in donations, which have all gone to purchase mask material.”

The Church at Estrella came up with another “outside the box” idea.

“We contracted with an ice cream truck to drive around our community,” Scheffe said.

People came out of their houses with money in hand to buy ice cream. When they completed their orders and started to pay, church members told them the ice cream was free, courtesy of The Church at Estrella.

The Church at Estrella, a North American Mission Board church plant in Goodyear, Ariz., contracted an ice cream truck to drive around their local community. As their neighbors came out to pay for ice cream, they learned that their snacks had already been paid for by the church. It was an opportunity for the church to encourage their community and invite them to their virtual services. Photo provided by The Church at Estrella

“We invited them to online church and told them TCE was there for them,” Scheffe said.

“We have a generous God who has been generous to us,” he said, “so we get to be generous to others. As a result, so many cool things have come out of these ministries, including more opportunities to reach the community.”

Bond echoed those sentiments.

“God has done so much in our community and in our lives,” she said. “I am so grateful to find something I didn’t know I was missing.”

The Church at Estrella is a North American Mission Board church plant sponsored by First Baptist Church, Edmond, Okla. Charles Scheffe and his wife, Stefanie, were members of First Baptist Church of Edmond when they felt the call to plant a church in Arizona.

Charles Scheffe, pastor of The Church at Estrella in Goodyear, Ariz., and his wife Stefanie, with their daughters Addisyn, 10, and Londyn, 3. Photo provided by The Church at Estrella.

They toured the Phoenix area. By God’s leading, they found themselves in Estrella Mountain Ranch and knew it was where they were supposed to be. With their daughters, Addisyn, now 10, and Londyn, 3, they launched The Church at Estrella in 2018.

Deborah Leuthold is a freelance writer for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention’s Portraits magazine and the editor of the Thunderbolt newspaper at Luke Air Force Base and Desert Lightning News at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Published May 5, 2020