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Arizona house of worship gives itself up to another church in need

PHOENIX -- A nondenominational church in Payson has been blessed with a gift from a self-sacrificing older congregation -- a new home.

The Expedition Church had been meeting Sundays inside a school cafeteria. "All we really need is a roof over our head and a place to meet, so we've been grateful," Pastor Donovan Christian said, "but we have been looking around for a place that would be more conducive to the kind of ministry that we want to see happen."

Christian said his church had been negotiating with First Southern Baptist Church in Payson about renting space there.

First Southern has been in operation for 51 years but its congregation is aging, and its inability to attract young people has led to declining attendance. Church members there had a decision to make.

"The question was 'If we are declining and our time and our season does need to end, then how is it going to end?' " Christian said. "They decided to end it in a way that was exceedingly generous, thoughtful, kind and loving."

First Southern Pastor Rick Hatch called Donovan to ask, "If we gave you the church, would you take it?" Donovan said, "It was a rare moment for me, because I had no words to speak, and was in shock, literally." He eventually told Hatch yes.

For legal reasons, First Southern sold the property to Expedition for $1. The four-acre site includes the sanctuary, buildings with several meeting rooms, a kitchen with dining area and a house.

Christian announced the deal to his congregation during a Sunday service in April. He played a video that Hatch recorded talking about his church's decision. A celebration broke out among Expedition's congregation.

Last Sunday was Expedition's first service in its new digs. The church seats 300 people but 500 showed up.

"We had people in the foyer, standing against the walls," said Christian. "In the balcony, they were wall to wall in every nook and cranny that we could put people."

Christian said that Expedition may have to add an additional Sunday service to handle the crowds. He is grateful for the donation and is praying that his church will impact Payson the way First Southern Baptist did.

"We're excited to see how God may use that in the future," Christian said.

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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