“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 being pastor of a church, laughed and said 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, a Seventh-day Adventist, and her husband, Herminio Irizarry, couldn't find a local church home during the pandemic, so they began joining the Peoria Seventh-day Adventist Church in Peoria, Illinois, United States, 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 watching Peoria.
Originally from Puerto Rico, the couple met while working for the federal government. They were never able to find what seemed like the right church in their area. After the pandemic made in-person worship difficult, they began looking online at other options. They enjoyed the Kahoot! game that Matthew kicks off the Sabbath Stream with and even got to know the Sabbath School teachers by name.
“What excited me the most about this email was that Iris and Herminio were getting to know the other members of the church,” Matthew explained. “It always makes me nervous when people attach exclusively to the preaching or the pastor, because pastors move. We’ve made it a point to put our members’ 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 2021, Iris and Herminio were determined to visit Peoria sometime in the fall. They wanted to meet these church members they saw each week. And they had an ulterior motive: Herminio wished to be baptized and cast his lot with a congregation 800 miles (about 1,300 kilometers) from his home.
On October 16, Iris and Herminio came to the Peoria Seventh-day Adventist Church 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,” Matthew 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” (Psalm 143:10, NIV).
Matthew says he 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.”