Sedona, Ariz. | The two-hour drive to Sedona was an uncomfortable one for Josh Jennings, balking at his wife’s vacation plans in the middle of the desert after the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.
But when Jennings and his wife, Shannon, arrived in Sedona—2,000-plus miles removed from their South Carolina home—something happened that they did not expect. There, in the midst of the red rock pillars and majestic mountain cliffs, they were drawn to this unique culture.
Sedona, one of the biggest New Age destinations in the country, is a unique enclave of tourists, artists, psychics, locals, jeep riders, gurus, hikers, Buddhists, and nature lovers. After Jennings, a pastor in South Carolina, became acquainted with the region, he made the offhand comment, “Somebody ought to plant a church out here.”
Over the next few years, God led the couple and their three children to do just that. “I never considered planting a church,” Jennings said. “I was happy being the pastor of an established church.” Yet, from 2011 to 2013, God began to impress upon their hearts that he was calling them to Arizona, sometimes in unusual ways.
Once, the Jennings family was hiking in South Carolina’s Table Rock State Park where they had a “God moment” when a man walked by wearing a Sedona shirt and a Clemson hat (Shannon is passionate about Clemson). Later, they met a young man at the 2013 Passion Conference who reminded them about the big challenges in Sedona.
Jennings soon found out more about the opportunities in Sedona. His director of missions in Spartanburg, S.C., contacted Rik Danielsen, director of missions in Arizona’s Yavapai Baptist Association and learned there was a definite need for a new plant. Danielsen told them a church in Cottonwood, 20 miles to the southwest, was praying about starting a church in Sedona.
Jennings moved to the Verde Valley in January 2014 and his family arrived that summer. They officially launched Aletheia Church on Jan. 18, 2015. “Aletheia” is the word for “truth” in Greek.
“I love the people of Sedona,” he said. “We have a real presence in the community. Our [church members] see this as an opportunity to serve our town.”
The Jennings family has worked hard to make inroads into Sedona by hiking the trails with people, serving in the schools and parks, and loving the community as Jesus would. “When people first hear what we do, the walls go up,” Josh said. “But when we show interest in them and care more for them than ourselves, the walls come down”—and people come to Christ.
Josh’s leadership and Shannon’s energy have been big reasons for the church’s progress. They now have dreams of multiplying and starting new churches as they influence the Sedona area and beyond.
“My biggest dream,” Josh said, “is that one day people will flock to Sedona not because it’s wildly spiritual but because God is working in people’s lives.”