When the sun goes dark Aug. 21, southern Illinois will be one of the best places to catch the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1979. Churches in the region, along with others across the country, are planning to use the event as an opportunity to share the gospel.
Everyone in the contiguous U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, but the 70-mile-wide “path of totality,” in which a total eclipse will be visible, will pass through 14 states, including Illinois. Makanda, Ill., located just south of Carbondale, has been cited as the “greatest point of duration,” or the place where the eclipse will be visible the longest—2 minutes and 38 seconds, according to a city website devoted to sharing eclipse information.
Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale hosted an area-wide prayer and worship rally Aug. 14 to spiritually prepare for the influx of people. And Nine Mile Baptist Association, through a partnership with IBSA, plans to distribute 50,000 gospel tracts during the weekend prior to the eclipse. Additionally, people will be stationed at each of Carbondale’s four entry points to pray over every car that enters the city. “We want to cover our city in prayer,” said Lakeland Pastor Phil Nelson.
Elsewhere in the eclipse’s path, churches are utilizing the unique ministry opportunity to meet spiritual needs in their community—whether it’s inviting eclipse viewers to use their parking lots, or using the event to launch future ministries.
In Casper, Wyo., Mountain View Baptist Church and College Heights Baptist Church have partnered with Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Wyoming to purchase copies of a DVD titled “God of Wonders,” which explains how creation reveals God and how salvation is available through Jesus Christ. Church members will distribute the DVDs during the eclipse along with 3,000 evangelistic bookmarks.
“Additionally,” Mountain View pastor Buddy Hanson said, “if our parking lot is utilized for eclipse watchers, we will take that opportunity to try and share the gospel.”
In Lincoln, Neb., the launch of Hope City, a North American Mission Board church plant, is set to correspond with the eclipse. The congregation’s first service is slated for Aug. 20. That day and during the eclipse, the church will distribute 2,000 “college survival kits” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., will host a gospel concert on Sunday, Aug. 20, and is inviting people to watch the eclipse from their parking lots the next day. “We have already handed out over 4,000 eclipse viewing glasses and have several hundred more for those needing them,” said Executive Pastor Bruce Raley.
Beginning just after 10 a.m. local time in Lincoln Beach, Ore., the total eclipse will take approximately an hour and a half to pass over Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Viewers are strongly encouraged to wear eclipse glasses or other protective eyewear.
– From Baptist Press, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist