FROM THE STATES: New Mexico Hispanic churches get help with Sunday School; Missouri prayer event becomes drive-by

New Mexico Hispanic churches get help to revitalize Sunday Schools

By Karen Pilgreen

ALBUQUERQUE (Baptist New Mexican) -- As part of his doctoral studies, Ricardo Rivera, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico's Hispanic ministry strategist, visited Hispanic churches in New Mexico. He discovered that Sunday School attendance was low in many of those churches.

"In a 15-year study, I found that Hispanic Sunday Schools averaged less than 2,000 people in total attendance," he said. "The Hispanic population in New Mexico was almost one million."

That knowledge inspired Rivera to develop a Hispanic Sunday School revitalization strategy he called RENOVANDO La Escuela Dominical Regresando a lo Fundamental: Alcanzar, Enseñar, y Ministrar (Renewing Sunday School Returning to Fundamentals: Reaching, Teaching and Ministering).

Ricardo Rivera leads a Sunday School Revitalization training for Hispanic leaders in Las Cruces during March. COVID-19 delayed other training until June.
 
When Rivera spoke with pastors about how to address the problem, many responded that they needed help with their Sunday School. Rivera recruited leaders onto a strategy development team.

Sixteen churches committed to participate.

"I developed promotional material, which included a video, posters and prayer guides," Rivera said. "As a means of promoting the strategy, I mailed this material to the participating churches, and I also used Facebook, texts and emails."

The strategy launched in January. Its first goal was calling participating churches to pray. Churches received prayer guides instructing them what and when to pray throughout the year.

The strategy's second goal was to conduct four Sunday School specialists training events in 2020. During March, Rivera hosted two local church training sessions. Attendance was good, and the lessons were well received. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he conducted the remaining sessions via Zoom video conferencing.

Though the Zoom meetings lacked the shared meal and the face-to-face connection of the previous meetings, the teaching went well. But the implementation has stalled as churches are unable to meet.

"There were no problems in presenting the material, having discussions and Q&A time," Rivera said. "Leaders received instructions to begin training with the material they received. They would use different means of promoting the purpose, mission, vision and core values of the Hispanic Sunday School to the church. However, problems arose with the implementation of the principles taught. All use of the training is now on hold due to the virus."

Rivera has rescheduled May's three training sessions for June. Those will be in Las Cruces, Hobbs and Albuquerque. Other Hispanic churches are in Lovington, Eunice, Artesia, Gallup, Farmington, Santa Fe, Portales, and Clovis.

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Pandemic drives Missouri National Day of Prayer event to the streets

By Dan Steinbeck

EUREKA, Mo. (BP) -- When the virus pandemic canceled Eureka's National Day of Prayer event May 7, several area churches found a way to take prayer out of city hall to the streets.

The "prayer drive out-and-about" was the idea of Lisa Gard, wife of Central Baptist Church pastor Dennis Gard, who organized the event.

Cars lined up in the Eureka High School parking lot before driving through Eureka for a National Day of Prayer event. Each line of cars was led by an emergency vehicle.
Submitted photo
"Usually, we have a prayer breakfast with the mayor," Dennis Gard said. "With the COVID-19, that wasn't possible this year. Mayor Sean Flowers loved the idea (of praying and driving) and promised administrative support."

At least three other churches in town -- sister Missouri Baptist church Genesis Church, a Methodist church and a Catholic church -- also participated.

Sixty-five cars gathered in six lines in the Eureka High School parking lot for the event. Each line was led by a Eureka police or fire vehicle sounding an occasional siren to draw attention. Each line covered a particular route in town. Positive prayer messages were written on the cars' windows.

Eureka is in St. Louis County where the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard, and where social distancing and isolation is strongly encouraged.

"It was in the tradition of prayer-walking, but social distancing made this (prayer driving) necessary," Genesis pastor Mike Hubbard said.

Central Baptist member Jill Blaylock, who in previous years has served as coordinator for Eureka's National Day of Prayer event, distributed a list of ways to pray for the neighborhoods by landmarks. Participants were encouraged to pray for children when they saw playground equipment; police and fire departments when they saw fire hydrants; essential workers when they saw delivery trucks; graduating seniors when yards contained Class of 2020 signs, etc.

A local Methodist church is the site of the area's food pantry, which has seen an uptick in demand during the pandemic. The last vehicle in each line of cars collected food during the prayer drive -- an effort that yielded 60 bags of food. Those participants were the only ones to leave their cars during the event.

Organizers were surprised by the turnout. They had expected one-third as many vehicles as actually participated.

"We had so many people because they weren't working that Thursday," Blaylock said. "Also, a lot of retirees aren't going out and young mothers aren't going out."

"It was nice the churches worked together," pastor Hubbard said. "Praying for the city was key. It was a sense of connection and beauty."

Gard added: "We had good feedback on social media. We're open for discussion about how we'll do it next year."

Karen Pilgreen is a volunteer assignment writer with the Baptist New Mexican news journal and GoBNM.com, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Dan Steinbeck writes for The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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