“Hi, Pastor Matthew,” the woman’s email began. “After listening to a few of your podcasts, I decided to Google you …” Matthew Lucio, who hosts the Adventist History Podcast alongside pastoring a church, laughs and says it’s always dangerous when someone wants to Google you.
Google led Iris Miranda to the Peoria Seventh-day Adventist Church’s weekly “Sabbath Stream” livestream. Iris and her husband, Herminio Irizarry, weren’t able to find a local church home during the pandemic, so they began joining the Peoria church each week: “I am seriously hesitating going back to my church here in Virginia,” Iris wrote, “because I don’t want to stop watching Peoria’s services.”
Iris and Herminio didn’t stop.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Iris and Herminio met working for the federal government. They were never able to find the right church in their area. After the pandemic made in-person worship difficult they, like many other Adventists, began looking online at the other options. They enjoyed the Kahoot! game Lucio kicks off the Sabbath Stream with and even got to know the Sabbath School teachers by name. “Oh, and who can forget Bernie Sanders with his mittens sitting in church. . . . You guys are really awesome!”
“That’s an inside joke,” Lucio explains. “What excited me the most about this email was that Iris and Herminio were getting to know the other members of the church. It always makes me nervous when people attach exclusively to the preaching or to the pastor, because pastors move. We’ve made it a point to put our member’s names on the screen so that our online audience can form ties with them. Our Sabbath School teachers began to recognize our frequent fliers online and began greeting them as if they were sitting in our church.”
By July, Iris and Herminio were determined to visit Peoria sometime in the fall. They wanted to meet these church members they saw each week. But they also had an ulterior motive: Herminio wanted to be baptized and cast his lot with a congregation 800 miles from his home.
On Oct. 16, 2021, Iris and Herminio came to the Peoria Seventh-day Adventist Church in Illinois for the first time in person. “The church looks bigger in person than on camera,” Iris said. Herminio was suddenly a part of the same livestream he once watched from home.
“We’re basically telling Jesus, ‘I’ll die for you. I’ll give up who I was, including the parts of myself that I loved. I give it all to you,” Lucio told him. Standing in the baptistery, Herminio thanked his wife for her love and read one of his favorite Bible verses: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10).
Lucio is still amazed at the privilege of baptizing someone who simply started listening to a podcast on Adventist history and who then found a church livestream. “We’re a small church in the middle of Illinois and I cannot help but conclude that God did this. It just goes to show that the old mindset of local churches belonging to local cities is outdated. Our city is important to us, but our field is the world. We believe that now more than ever around here.”
You can watch the baptism and listen to the Adventist History podcast here.
— This article originally appeared on the Lake Union Herald website.