A Year in Review: Return to Fellowship

A Year in Review: Return to Fellowship
A Year in Review: Return to Fellowship

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Return to Fellowship—Calvary Chapel Fellowships Share Ways they have Seen God Move, Both During the Lockdown and After Reopening

This story first ran in Issue 84, Summer 2020, of Calvary Chapel Magazine.


Trusting in God in Uncertain Times: GraceBuilt Church in Waynesboro, VA

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Christian Rodriguez

Claire Akin tucked her 9-year-old daughter into bed and prayed with her. Then she gently asked, “Chloe, do you know the best is yet to come?” Chloe confidently reassured her mother, “I know that, Mom.” In that tender moment, Claire realized that she was speaking more to herself than to her daughter. Claire is the wife of Josh Akin, pastor of GraceBuilt Church, a Calvary Chapel in Waynesboro, VA. As a family physician, she’s very aware of the medical dangers of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. “I realize I can’t put my hope in anything but Jesus Christ. I often have to remind myself that the best is yet to come. It’s something that we as Christians need to [do] because sometimes the world can look very dark,” she observed.

Pastor Josh and family worshiping

Pastor Josh Akin (left) of GraceBuilt Church in Waynesboro, VA, worships the Lord with his wife, Claire, and daughter Chloe during Sunday service.

Josh and Claire, and their small fellowship of 200 in the foothills of Central Virginia, haven’t escaped the hardships caused by COVID-19. Claire hadn’t worked since low patient volume at her clinic led to staff cuts. Several members of the church had also been laid off or furloughed. Josh noted that COVID-19 affected everyone. He reflected, “[When] we face challenges, we grow. God is going to use every aggravation that we’re facing to give us an opportunity to cry out to Him, to lean on Him more than we did before. We’ll always need this lesson, again and again.”

Couple praising God with masks on

A couple worships at GraceBuilt Church while wearing masks.

A bittersweet beauty has come from this challenging season, he asserted. “Yes, the virus hurts—and yes, we’re afraid. Yet people are loving each other more openly, leaning on each other; it’s OK to admit that we need God’s love [offered] through one another.”

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Band playing worship

The GraceBuilt Church worship team leads the congregation in praising the Lord.

Man interviewed for TV

Josh is interviewed by a local television news station.


Calvary Chapel Stone Mountain: A Joyful Reunion

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Mary Lou Lawson

The reunion was joyful as believers returned to worship at Calvary Chapel Stone Mountain, GA, on Sunday, May 3. For the first time in six weeks, Senior Pastor Sandy Adams preached to a live audience, and the worship team led live voices—and hearts—in praise. While the setting was different than the last service they’d attended, people grateful for the renewed face-to-face fellowship relished every moment and lingered long past the closing of the service.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I [Jesus] am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

Pastor Sandy and his wife sitting with masks on

Pastor Sandy Adams and his wife Kathy enjoy gathering with fellow believers while taking responsible measures to protect others at Calvary Chapel Stone Mountain, GA.

“I cannot tell you how much I cried during the service and during worship. It was so beautiful,” said Amanda Ghali. “Being there made me realize how I had taken for granted that time of fellowship in person and how thankful I am to have it.”

The service was a reunion for Darrell David, a member of the church for more than 25 years. “This is home, and these are my brothers and sisters. It was like seeing family members you haven’t seen in such a long time, ones you miss so much. My heart overflowed to be able to worship together once again,” he recalled.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

Congregation worshiping together with hands in the air

Families are free to worship the Lord together while maintaining a safe distance from others in the congregation.

A church’s job is to prepare Christians to be spiritually strong, spiritually healthy disciples of Jesus Christ who can withstand weeks of not meeting, Sandy firmly stated. “Our folks don’t need me to spoon-feed them God’s Word. If that’s the case, then I haven’t done my job. However, having said that, there comes a point where online church is not acceptable [for most people],” he admonished. “Biblically speaking, [when possible] we’re not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. There’s something special that happens with flesh-and-blood fellowship, people eyeball to eyeball interacting with each other. We cannot take the posture that this is non-essential.”

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some. Hebrews 10:24-25a

High shot of church

Even with reduced seating capacity, there were still plenty of empty chairs as CC Stone Mountain cautiously eased back into corporate worship.


A Prayer for Revival at Calvary Chapel Alpharetta, GA

Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos by Stanley Leary

Pastor Blake West opened the doors of Calvary Chapel Alpharetta, GA, with some trepidation. Although the congregation fully supported meeting again after COVID-19 closures, the decision weighed heavily on his mind—Georgia was one of the first states to reopen. “There were no problems, and I walked away feeling it was very healthy, very therapeutic,” Blake said of the in-person service. “We believe we were here to shout out and sing His praises … in this large room where we were able to be [socially] distant. It was wonderful to see familiar faces and faces that would become new family members in Jesus’ name.”

Pastor preaching side view

Pastor Blake West of Calvary Chapel Alpharetta, GA, shares with the congregation before communion.

While there have not been any direct illnesses from COVID-19 in the church, there have been ripple effects from layoffs, furloughs, and closed businesses. “Private business owners have taken a hit,” Pastor Blake shared. “One couple, already unemployed, feel their chances at finding a job will be slim. Another gentleman’s furlough that began as one week has evolved into five.”

Blake cautioned that many are not emotionally flourishing and remain on the fringes. “This isolation is the enemy’s playground—[Satan] delights in people being alone and isolated.” Careful to not paint with a broad brush, Blake observed that many in families or who have an active, vibrant relationship with the Lord seem to be doing very well. However, those who are single often experience loneliness, anxiety, worry, and stress.

Man worshiping with mask on

Those attending the CC Alpharetta service were able to worship the Lord while maintaining social distancing.

It may be a long time before churches can return to large-scale events and big-name speakers, he expressed, “In the meantime, my prayer is that revival will come to the body of Christ, wake us up, give us boldness to recognize the needs of others, and share how Jesus has affected us.”

The Gospel is Not Quarantined: Calvary Chapel Vineland, NJ

Story by Debra Smith
Photos courtesy of Calvary Chapel Vineland, NJ

Pastor Frank Ippolito of Calvary Chapel Vineland, NJ, was packing up after preaching on Sunday, May 17. He felt energized by seeing God reach people with His Word during the pandemic, though he was grieved preaching into a camera rather than into people’s eyes. His grandson walked up. “He put his arm around me,” Frank stated, “and said, ‘Hey, Pop, some folks want to say “Hello” to you outside.’”

We miss you Pastor Frank car sign

Members of Calvary Chapel Vineland, NJ, show their love for Pastor Frank Ippolito.

The full parking lot erupted in blaring horns when Frank and his wife Gerri stepped outside for the surprise ambush of gratitude—church members had driven to their building and listened to the livestream from their vehicles. “I instantly started crying,” said Gerri. “I don’t have enough words for what happened Sunday. We just had tears. I rethink it over and over.”

Frank added that his own relatives are being exposed to the Bible in new ways. “One cousin watches all my videos on Facebook and shares them with all my family,” he stated. “The Word is going out further than we could imagine. Paul was chained, and we may be quarantined, but the Word of God is not.”

Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. 2 Timothy 2:8-9

Frank and wife waving

Pastor Frank and his wife Gerri happily greet members of their congregation who drove by during the COVID-19 restrictions.


Discipleship: Going Deeper with God at Calvary Chapel Fluvanna, VA

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Warren McIvor

Pastor Steve Feden looked around his beloved congregation at Calvary Chapel Fluvanna in central Virginia. Though his flock was full of committed, kind, God-fearing people, he felt something was missing. The answer finally surfaced: small-group discipleship that would help them understand more deeply the love of God. These small groups helped the flock navigate the global pandemic.

Pastor greeting family

Pastor Steve Feden (right) of Calvary Chapel Fluvanna, VA, appreciates fellowship with his church body.

“It’s so easy for people to hide in church; that’s why we need small groups that are effective—where people can talk about the deep things of life, not just have another Bible study and collect more information,” Pastor Steve clarified. “The influence of our culture is so powerful that people can hear about a God who loves them, but if they grew up in an abusive or dysfunctional family, they have no idea what that means.”

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

People sitting in lawn chairs listening to sermon

Members of CC Fluvanna gather outside for their service.

Mandy Claytor became close with the six women in her small group and they now connect online once a week. She said, “The biggest difference overall is my thought life. I learned to stop going down the rabbit hole of ‘what if,’ and choose to trust God.”

Pastor preaching outside

Pastor Steve teaches his outdoor congregation.


Redeeming the Time: Calvary Chapel Cleveland

Story by Lindsey Benitez and Margot Bass
Photos by Christian Rodriguez

“The Lord is truly redeeming the time,” exclaimed Mike Bucher, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH, as he recalled the weeks that his church body could not meet in person because of COVID-19. CC Cleveland had been reluctant to embrace social media technology, fearing that the church body might have less fellowship or not use their spiritual gifts. Mike explained, “Satan wants to scatter the church, but honestly, this has made God’s Word go even farther than before.”

“Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14b

Pastor Mike praying with others

Pastor Mike Bucher (left) and members of Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH, pray as they regather.

Mike declared, “The Lord put on my heart years ago that in Cleveland I would be a pastor during a crisis, for such a time as this, a time of desperation. A lot of the fluff has been taken away—not only from the world but from the churches. So, what is lasting, solid? Where are you going to find peace? Only through God’s Word.”

As we move closer to the End Times, Mike warned, “The Bible says that God is going to shake everything. If your foundation is on anything besides the Lord, you will be shaken. Jesus said that when you see these [events], begin to lift your eyes as your redemption draws near. The finish line is close.”

Pastor Mike preaching

Pastor Mike teaches in person to his congregation after weeks of being unable to meet.

With a smile, Mike described himself as The World’s Fastest Pastor: “I get to drive a dragster at 275 mph. I also get the privilege of being pastor of an awesome church.” He is the son of the late championship NHRA driver Jim Bucher, a Top Fuel driver who won the 1975 Summernationals. Over many years, Mike used his platform as a racer to share the Gospel through social media. “I sent, and am still texting, links to virtual Bible studies to over 40 people per day—old friends, relatives, and drag racers.”

Online services worked well, but Mike and others missed the voices of their church family. Pastor Mike’s son Caleb led worship both virtually and during the regathering. Remembering the shutdown, he said, “I would play like there were people there because I knew people were listening.” But he was happy to have people in the sanctuary. “I looked out there and saw them worshipping, and it brought more excitement in my heart to see the oneness we have in the Lord.”

Pastor Mike putting away vacuum

Mike cleans the church building in preparation for opening after COVID-19 closures.


Calvary Under the Tent: Returning to the Roots at Calvary La Habra, CA

Story by Lerian Stringer
Photos by Gary Apodaca

In responding to recent governmental orders limiting church attendance, Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA, is also returning to the roots of the Calvary Chapel movement, to when Founder Chuck Smith held services under a circus tent. COVID-19 restrictions aren’t stopping the large fellowship from worshipping—they are now meeting outdoors under a 6,000-square foot tent, calling it “Calvary Under the Tent.”

Pastor Lance smiling speaking to crowd

Pastor Lance Cook (right) and visiting Pastor Stan Mitchell address CC La Habra, CA.

“God has been so faithful to us in meeting our needs before we even know to ask. We are so thankful for the new tent that He provided for our church,” exclaimed Senior Pastor Lance Cook. To help navigate the Southern California heat, CC La Habra has provided coolers, misters, and fans. Separate tented locations have been set aside for children, young adults, and Japanese- and Spanish-speaking attendees. “The tents provide a sense of safety to the [church] body,” Lance added, noting that other COVID-19 precautions are being taken.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

Drone shot of tent

People flock to the CC La Habra tent.

CC La Habra has a long history of community involvement and relief outreaches, leading to a good rapport with the local government. This past spring, Lance related, “Our City Council reached out to me [regarding church restrictions], and said they and our police chief felt comfortable allowing me and our leadership to move forward with whatever we felt was best for our people.” La Habra officials and the church together hosted a virtual city-wide prayer meeting.

Pastors discussing

Lance and Stan discuss racial issues.


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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.