ARIZONA, Casa Grande – BNc. Because Arizona is a popular retirement destination, congregations are blessed with many elderly members. This means, however, that funerals are not uncommon and Covid-19 has added to the pain.

A church of Christ has been meeting in the Casa Grande, Arizona area since 1877! On February 1st one of their members, Katheryn Maddox Haddad, posted on social media: “Two more have died in our congregation. We’re hurting.”

On request, she gave these details:

“Our congregation has some 125 members. In the past six years, we have had funerals for nine of our men who led parts of our worship. Two years ago, we were having one funeral a month. Then Covid hit.

“In Mid-March our congregation stopped meeting and did not resume for three months. We have no techies, so had to rely on watching other congregational services on the Internet.

“Soon after our quarantine began, I became frustrated with myself because I began crying all the time. Then I realized it was clinical depression and it would pass some day. I had to be patient with myself. Other women had similar symptoms. The son of one of our members committed suicide.

“Living alone, in early May I began a private Facebook page called ‘Casa Grande Church of Christ Girl Talk’. Twenty-eight ladies became members and it was so helpful to all of us to be in touch again with our sisters. We kept hearing reports of relatives getting Covid, so we huddled together and laughed and cried on our little FB page.

“I turned 80 in May and thought I’d rough it alone. But mid-afternoon, I changed my mind. I put a light bamboo bench in my back seat and away I went. I visited two of my sisters, each time sitting out on their porch on my little bench and with my mask on, and visiting through their screen door. Then I passed a grocery store and waited in my car near the door until an employee came out. I gave her $20 and asked her to buy me a six-inch birthday cake! She did. But my ‘party’ was not over yet. I went to see three other sisters, sitting on my bamboo bench and visiting through their screen door. By then it was nearly dark and I headed home, determined to eat my entire birthday cake by myself. Well, that didn’t work but I did manage half of it. Now I look back on my eightieth birthday and tell myself, ‘It was good.’

“Our congregation resumed meeting in mid-June. We met for two weeks, but one of the members tested positive at work. So we closed down for another two weeks. But cases in Arizona spiked during that time, so our congregation closed down again until mid-August.

“Last summer an 85-year-old man was finally baptized whose wife had been trying to convert for 65 years. He died two weeks later and his wife died of old age during the pandemic.

“We continued to hear about Covid hitting the relatives of our members, but none of our members had been stricken … yet. As always, when we resumed meeting, every other row of pews was taped off and most people sat at the far ends of each pew. Everyone wore masks, even when we sang. I went a step farther and wore gloves also. About sixty-five of us returned … half of us. Half a dozen of our leading men did not, due to health issues and low resistance. Whenever I would ask members, ‘How has your week been?’ they always replied, ‘Terrible’. But we were at least able to experience the ‘terrible’ together.

“I wrote myself this note on Sunday, September 6: ‘Sunday again and together again. We sang with our masks on and our glasses fogged up. We greeted each other as ‘masked men’ and tried to smile big with our eyes. But how can we tell since we have so many crinkle lines on the outsides of them? A twinkle (hopefully)? How do we make our voices smile? How do we smile with our words? Ah, that’s it: Love words!

“The previous Thursday, our ladies Bible class resumed at my house. I suggested the fellowship hall, but it had flooded from a hot water tank breaking and was a major mess. I brought dining room chairs into my Livingroom six feet apart. On my large sofa, I put piles of pillows to mark six feet. Eight ladies came. Together again. Together we laughed. Together we cried. Together we prayed. How I love them all.

“In October, things turned bad again for our congregation. A member’s mother was hospitalized with Covid. A former member got Covid. Two members and their wives were home with symptoms. Another member and his wife were home because of exposure to Covid. A sister died of old age (we think). A brother died of heart trouble. A blind member quit attending because a neighbor across the street died of Covid. An entire family of six are now at home with Covid.

“In November our preacher began having physical problems requiring surgery and was out of commission for over a month. The men we had left, preached.

“Then Christmas came along and I put up a prayer and blessings tree. Each day I attached to two of the ornaments, a prayer request and a blessing. And each day I put the name of one of our church families on my tree. I decided to never take the tree down!

“On December 1st it became extremely hard for me to breathe. I was tested for Covid and it came back negative. But I still struggled with breathing. It was terrible. I tried to see my doctor but he was afraid, and said I could not come in! The symptoms stayed for two weeks, maybe three. As I look back, I am sure I had Covid and that the test results were wrong.

“In January, Arizona became a Covid hot spot! A couple at church (she is a nurse) became infected and stayed home with much pain. His mother had it too and was hospitalized, then died. A sister who had been a member since the 1930s contracted Covid and died. Her family contracted it and was hospitalized. Another sister, a member since the 1940s, and my closest friend, contracted Covid and died.

“Just now I talked to the son of a woman who died of Covid on Sunday. He said the whole family has Covid.

“We are hurting.”

Katheryn Maddox Haddad

Note: Sister Haddad is a prolific writer who has written 65 books on religious topics (16 historical novels, 26 children’s Bible story books, and 23 non-fiction). For several years she had a newspaper column that appeared in Texas and North Carolina called, “Little Known Facts about the Bible.” She has a bachelor’s degree in English, Bible and social science from Harding and she has studied Bible and Greek at the Harding Graduate School of Theology. She also has a master’s degree in management and human relations. She spends half of her day writing and half teaching English over the Internet using the Bible as a textbook. She has taught more that 6500 Muslims through World English Institute. For the past fifteen years, she has sent an inspirational Scripture thought each morning to 30,000 people. Here is her website: https://inspirationsbykatheryn.com/