Church Embraces Saints And Sinners

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Pastor Joe Hittle and his church, Calvary Chapel, are different from other religious organizations. For one, they welcome everyone, especially those living on the outskirts of society. In fact, Pastor Hittle hasn't always been pious man.

"I was lost in my own life. I was a drug addict and a convicted felon...drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll. I was really searching for God," said Hittle.

And so, drug addicts and criminals were the people he first ministered to, and as pastor of Calvary Chapel here in Payson, he continues to reach out to those suffering.

"God began to show me, I have revealed Myself in the Bible, to men," said Hittle.

Calvary Chapel runs a faith-based recovery program called "One Step to Freedom." The program was developed by Bible scholars, so it's grounded in the Bible's message of faith and healing. The group meets Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.

The church also sponsors halfway homes in Payson for men and women who have been released from prison and who seek a faith-based recovery and educational program.

Participants in the program work though emotional issues and learn vocational and domestic skills.

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Pastor Joe Hittle stands in front of a handmade depiction of Jesus during Passover, which was sent to Payson's Calvary Chapel from China, where the church supports a ministry.

Pastor Hittle brought his ministry to Payson five years ago after he heard that the Calvary Chapel was closing its doors.

He hopped in his car and drove to Payson from Winslow to start a Bible study group. The group met on a Thursday in the conference room at the Holiday Inn.

"So many people showed up that they had to ask us to leave," Pastor Hittle said with a laugh.

After that, the group met Thursday nights at the Manzanita Care Home conference room.

"It wasn't even a month before there were so many people there that they asked us to do a Sunday morning service," said Hittle.

By spring of 2001 the group was meeting at Rumsey Park on Sunday mornings. By June they had rented Payson Elementary School. In October of 2002 members of Calvary Chapel were able to purchase their property from the Baptist church.

Calvary Chapel is a ministry teaching a balanced theological view of the Bible called the Whole Counsel of God. Parishioners read their bibles thoroughly by chapter and verse during worship services. There are not many sermons.

"We don't think that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament. He came to us on this earth and was born of a human so that He could relate to us. If He would have shown up in his supernatural glory or splendor people would have basically had a superstitious view." said Hittle.

Hittle incorporates music, his passion, in the services at Calvary Chapel. He plays the guitar and mixes traditional hymns with contemporary Christian songs.

Although he was severely injured in an accident while working as a railroad engineer Hittle does not take narcotics because they dull his mind.

"The Lord has taught me how to deal with my pain through His power," said Hittle. "(Living supernaturally) it's really not talked about too much in the American church. In churches in third-world countries, you quite often see people living by the supernatural power of God. Just like in Biblical times like the apostle Paul taught us and Jesus taught us."

Hittle, a member of the Payson Christian Ministerial Fellowship (PCMS), a group of church leaders who provide outreach in Payson, is planning an Easter program with the fellowship. PCMS is also looking at the possibility of a rescue mission in Payson.

On Saturday evenings in the summer, the church opens their lovely outdoor picnic area called the Manna Café. All Christians are welcome to enjoy sandwiches, non-alcoholic beverages and live music.

"It is just a neat time of fellowship; people just like to hang out. It is so pretty here in the evenings in the summertime," said Hittle.

Calvary Chapel is located at 1103 N. Beeline Highway. Sunday services are at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.; midweek services are held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. For more information, call (928) 468-0801.

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