Gardenia Moffett, a senior pastor at the Harvest Christian Fellowship in Sonoita, leads the fellowship in song at Sunday worship on Feb. 23, 2020.
Photo by Pei-Yu Lin

Gardenia Moffett walked onto the raised platform covered in gray carpet at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Sonoita on the last Sunday in February. She took the microphone and welcomed the congregation. Sophia Bergh, 17, the training leader for youth in the church, stood beside her. Recorded music started playing and they began to sing. “I raise a Hallelujah. Our weapon is a melody,” as the congregation joined in. Some of the 26 congregants stood up and swayed their bodies with a light rhythm.

Tom Moffett was just off stage, looking at his wife and singing along. The Moffetts are senior pastors at the Harvest Christian Fellowship, one of six Christian churches in the Sonoita area. Since they came to serve in Sonoita in August 2018, they have tried out new ways to attract churchgoers. 

Young generation in the church

The congregation has grown slightly and gotten younger since the Moffets arrived. More young people and families with children have started to come to the church, Tom Moffett said. 

“It was probably about 30 [at the beginning], but what happens is people leave and people come. So, we’re kind of reaching a new demographic of people, a little bit younger demographic in a small church,” he explained. Tom estimated that the congregation numbers about 40 people now.

Bergh, a student in Benson High School, is a leader in training at the church. She helps lead the worship and plan youth activities. She says she became a Christian at age 10, and last January, started to come to the Harvest Christian Fellowship with her father and her brother. “We wanted to find a new church with exciting pastors. We wanted something with more of the youth program,” she said. 

“Pastor Tom is just really energetic. He’s really good at getting fired up about kids,” she said.

Bergh loves to sing contemporary music, which is often accompanied by drums and electric guitars. It makes the congregation want to dance and sing more than the older hymns found in “stricter” churches, she said.

Bergh said the pastors usually open the Sunday worship with “peppy” and “fast-paced” songs to “get people excited about worship,” and afterwards, they normally transition to slower, more heartfelt songs. It “helps diminish the feeling of a strict religion when being in church,” Bergh said.

Before coming to Harvest, Bergh and her family went to Canelo Cowboy Church. That church’s Senior Pastor, Steve Lindsey, described the style of the music provided in the Canelo Church as “country music, “upbeat,” ‘’old-fashioned style” and is usually accompanied on guitars. According to Lindsey, the mission of the Canelo church, established in 2006, is to reach the working cowboy and those interested in the Western lifestyle. 

“Canelo was a great church, but they didn’t have contemporary music,” Bergh said. “The music was different, and I was becoming less interested in horses.” Instead of ranching or rodeo, Bergh’s hobbies are rock climbing and paddle boarding. For her career plan, she is considering joining the military and studying medicine.

Beside preaching the gospel, the church also has a Christ-centered homeschool ministry, called  “Harvest Homeschooler,” where young families gather once a week in the church to provide classes and activities for the children. Most of the time, the parents take turns teaching the group. However, homeschool service has been suspended since mid March because of the COVID-19 virus. Face-to-face Sunday worship is also on hold, although the church did hold a modified Easter service.

“Many of these families don’t attend Harvest. They attend elsewhere, but they come here for the homeschool co-op, which is pretty exciting,” Gardenia said.

“We are not specifically marketing or trying to attract a certain age group,” Gardenia said. 

She said young families have been drawn to Harvest Christian Church because of the “radical grace” they find there. “We are a grace-oriented Kingdom community that accepts and loves people exactly where they are. This is who we are,” Gardenia said. 

Cultivating public speaking skills

After singing a few songs, Gardenia welcomed Tom to the stage to start his speech for that day’s worship. Tom shared the story of Jesus’ life with the congregation and showed an animated video about the holy city, Jerusalem. 

It was a special day for the Moffetts: it was a day after Gardenia’s birthday, and they wanted to share their happiness with the congregation.

Tom invited the congregation to sing a happy birthday song to Gardenia, which they did, smiling and applauding.

“Thank you, Pastor Sweetie.” That’s how Gardenia referred to her husband after the song. Suddenly, Tom pointed at someone off the stage, and said, “Hey, you don’t call me Pastor Sweetie. Only her!” Tom’s humor triggered another laugh from the crowd.

Tom’s public speaking skills aren’t in his genes. “As far as public speaking, you do it,” Tom said. Tom was an athlete who signed with two NFL teams for a short time when he was 23. “What happens is when people hear NFL, they want you to come speak.” That’s when Tom started to practice public speaking and realized that he enjoys talking to the people in the church.

Tom went to postgraduate school for theology to get more training. He had worked for churches in Texas and Phoenix as a senior pastor and an executive pastor, respectively, before he came to Sonoita.

“I’m there [became a pastor in the church] because I believe it. Because it’s a passion. It’s coming from my life,” Tom said. 

Christianity amid the pandemic

Tom and Gardenia usually post information about the church on Tom Moffett’s Facebook fan page. After the outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March, they started to run a YouTube channel, KingdomComTV, to keep preaching the gospel online.

The Youtube Channel had 25 subscribers as of April 20. 

“It’s [the Youtube Channel] been very positive,” Tom said. “We use social media to let people know and we interact that way.”

The Moffetts also pray with the fellowship through phone calls and continue to do Bible studies via Zoom.

The church is still assisting Borderlands Produce Rescue, a non-profit organization which rescues fresh produce in Santa Cruz County, to host food distribution service “Produce on Wheels.” 

“This region is a food desert. If you’re not growing your own produce, you’re driving for it. Bringing fresh produce to the area is meeting a need for all,” Gardenia said.

In addition to food distribution, the Moffetts also started a toilet paper donation dropbox.

After getting permission from health officials and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, the Moffetts held Easter service in a different way. Parishioners signed up for a time and came into the church with a group of less than 10 people. The Moffetts then shared sermons, prayed, sang songs and held communion with them.

“We separated their chairs. We did it outside. We’ve held a mini-service for them. If they had children, we had a team of people over in the playground and those people could go in and play,” Tom said.

After kids left, their team wiped down the whole playground and cleaned the tables. Around 30 to 40 people participated in the Easter service, Tom estimated.

“It was hard for Gardenia and I. We were out there all day. But, the families loved it,” Tom said.

Tom and Gardenia also published an article, titled “Easter in the Time of COVID-19,” in the April Issue of  Patagonia Regional Times to tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

“I would speak of coronavirus because people are so fearful. That’s where they’re living … because fear and corona and all those things are relevant, then I would try to be relevant to where people are in their life,” Tom said.

“We believe the church is not a building with four walls. The church is people. Whether they ever decide to visit Harvest Church is beside the point. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities and we can love people right where they are,” Gardenia said.