Pastors looking for better year in '23

Dec. 31—The pandemic hurt churches in ways they had never been hurt before and the challenge of the New Year is to find more ways to repair the damage.

The Revs. Christopher Redden and Tim O'Neal say 2022 was the toughest year they ever spent with members dying and people finding their faith severely tested.

"It was challenging with overcoming COVID and the lack of numbers," said the Rev. Redden, pastor of Greater New Hope Baptist Church in Texarkana and former pastor of Odessa's St. Matthew Baptist Church.

"Not going to church became an option to some and pastors in this new age have to be online with Zoom and Facebook and maybe reach out to members by phone," he said. "We have to understand that church will never be the same, so maybe we have to do it differently.

"Some people are still suffering from COVID, but God is faithful and we just have to remain faithful in these times."

Redden said the admonition in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the assembly has been forgotten in many cases. "People go everywhere, to Walmart, H-E-B and football games, but they give up coming to church," he said.

"That's the dilemma church finds itself in. God is faithful to us, so we ought to be more faithful to him and want to be in the house of God because of what he has brought us through."

The Rev. O'Neal said it "has been a year of highs and lows for sure.

"It's been a blessing to help families in need who had to go through the hardest part of their lives at funerals, which we did a number of in 2022," said O'Neal, pastor of Refuge Ministries. "And we were able to rejoice with people at special events like weddings.

"A lady in our church who had fought with cancer for years passed away and her funeral was more a celebration of life that turned into a worship service. In 2023 we're looking for continued growth both physically and spiritually. We never took time off. It has been a continual, steady growth."

Asked what was the key to Refuge Ministries' success, O'Neal said, "Loving people and helping them through the hard times, showing the love of Christ but also preaching the truth of the Gospel.

"People are looking for truth, not flattering words. They would rather be told the truth and what the Bible says than to have their ears tickled with good messages that don't challenge them and don't bring the truth."