By David Roach
NASHVILLE — Distribution of nearly 7,000 gospel tracts by a Wyoming church, and an outdoor baptism service in Kentucky were among the ways Southern Baptists celebrated the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. since 1979.
The eclipse — whose 70-mile-wide “path of totality” was visible Aug. 21 in 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina — also led some evangelicals to theological reflections on God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and coming judgment.
In Hendersonville, the local newspaper named First Baptist Church one of the three best places in town to watch the eclipse, said minister of adults Jerry Wooley. The church distributed hot dogs and ice cream to hundreds in its parking lot.
“We could not have bought that kind of publicity,” Wooley told BP in an e-mail. “We didn’t know anything about our event was going to be in the news, much less that we would be one of the top viewing spots in the city.” He noted that families brought their lawn chairs, quilts, telescopes, cameras, and most of all, their friends.
“We were given a tremendous opportunity to share the gospel — one person at a time — right here on our own campus,” said Wooley, adding the church’s guests included a reporter from Washington D.C.
In Casper, Wyo., Mountain View Baptist Church distributed bookmarks and evangelistic tracts to locals and visitors who descended on the city to take advantage of its typically clear skies for the eclipse. One church member hooked his pet mule Roscoe to a carriage downtown and gave out about 1,000 tracts to passersby who stopped to pet the animal.
Mountain View pastor Buddy Hanson told BP he and his wife led one man to Christ during the Aug. 19 evangelistic blitz while church members shared the gospel with others. Mountain View, which averages some 160 in Sunday worship, also distributed water to visitors who watched the eclipse from the congregation’s parking lot.
In Chillicothe, Mo., Grand Oaks Baptist Assembly hosted 16 homeschool families for the “Wonders of Creation Solar Eclipse Family Retreat” Aug. 20-21, including mini-golf, hiking, swimming, and an opportunity to learn about the eclipse from a Christian worldview perspective.
Hillcrest Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Ky., canvassed 300-400 homes leading up to the eclipse and invited out-of-town guests at a nearby park to attend worship. Pastor Joe Bufford estimated that more than 100 of the 300-400 attendees at an Aug. 19 cookout and outdoor baptism service were from out of town.
After seven scheduled baptisms, a teenager professed faith in Christ and also was baptized, Bufford said. A child wanted to know more about salvation and will receive follow-up counseling from the church.
On eclipse day, visitors from Japan, Canada, and Illinois all found themselves in Bufford’s front yard, he said.
Some Baptists took to the internet to offer theological commentary spurred by the eclipse.
Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources’ B&H Academic division, wrote that the eclipse presented an opportunity to pause and marvel at God’s creation.
“When God created the world, all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:4-7),” Wax wrote in an Aug. 16 blog post. “The God who sings over His creation is the God who rejoices in His works (Psalm 104:31). If God delights in the work of His hands, shouldn’t we? And shouldn’t the wonders of creation lead us to praise and thank Him?
“So, let’s not wait until the next eclipse to stop and pause and wonder. Look up to the heavens, and then look further up, until you find joy in the God who enjoys His handiwork,” Wax wrote.