ELY – With ushers wearing high-visibility vests and directing vehicle traffic with red flags, the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church participated in a unique outdoor worship last Sunday …
ELY – With ushers wearing high-visibility vests and directing vehicle traffic with red flags, the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church participated in a unique outdoor worship last Sunday morning in the age of the coronavirus. Parishioners were guided into the parking lot at the former Shopko retail store for a drive-in worship service.
“Church is not a building,” said Pastor Eric Thiele. “Church is anywhere that people gather.”
Parishioners have relied on Facebook Live and YouTube for their weekly services since COVID-19 public health protocols were put in place that prohibited gathering in their church building.
The church building remains closed, and with no parking lot of their own, the Shopko lot allowed church leaders to continue doing their ministry as they were called to do, Thiele said.
As many as 50 vehicles and about 100 people participated in the service.
“This was slightly below average for our summer worship services,” he said. “There are many in our congregation who are not comfortable with going out too much.”
Nonetheless, Thiele was encouraged with how the service turned out.
“All things considered, and this being our first attempt, I thought things went quite well,” Thiele said. “Everyone wore masks, maintained a proper distance, stayed in their cars and stayed safe. I believe we learned new things that we didn’t know we were going to learn.”
With public health protocols in mind, Thiele outlined guidelines church members should follow for future drive-in services.
He implored those who have any symptoms of illness to stay home or seek medical attention.
“Please do not come to the worship,” he said.
He also suggested that attendees use the restroom before they arrive.
“Since we are not at our own building, there will not be any readily available bathrooms,” Thiele said. “While Subway is in the same parking lot, we want to be respectful of their business and not send in an influx of people simply to use the bathroom. If you do need to use a restroom, we recommend driving to the nearest gas station.”
Congregants are asked to arrive earlier than the start time of worship.
“It takes time to get (vehicles) parked and situated. All worship services will start on time. Try not to be late and a distraction for others,” he said.
Thiele also suggested bringing something to do (especially for the kids) while waiting for the service to begin.
For communion, parishioners are asked to bring a clean plate from home (any kind you desire). “To-go” communion cups are provided.
Paper bulletins for the service are not provided.
“They will be emailed and posted to Facebook, so either download it, print it, or have it ready to go,” Thiele said. He noted that for those uncomfortable or unable to attend the drive-in service, Facebook Live and YouTube remain available.
“Please wear your masks when speaking with an usher,” he said, and he asked all attendees to be considerate when parking and to follow directions.
The service is simulcast on the radio at 88.1 FM.
“Feel free to open your windows, talk to your neighbors next to you, wave at friends. You should be parked far enough away to abide by the social distancing guidelines,” Thiel said. “If people get out of their vehicles to greet their neighbors, I will immediately end the service.”
He also asked that attendees refrain from honking the horn to show their approval or to say “amen.” He encouraged the flashing of vehicle headlights and car lights.
For Communion, the pastor, donning a face mask will come to each vehicle driver’s window to distribute the proper amount in each of the communion cups placed on the clean plate provided by the driver. Communion is also provided upon request for those not able to attend.
Following the service, drivers are asked to remain patient as they leave the Shopko parking lot.
“Remember, everyone is trying to leave (and back out) at the same time,” Thiele said. “Follow the directions of the ushers as you leave. If you have an offering, you may place it in a basket as you leave, which ushers will have available.”
The drive-in services are scheduled to be held on Sunday mornings, beginning at 9:30 a.m. as long as the weather cooperates.
“I hope we can do this into November,” Thiele said, and added, “but you just don’t know what kind of weather to expect.”
“We hope that this will be a meaningful experience for our faith community as we have not been able to worship together since March 15.”
For more information, go to www.graceinely.org, or to their Facebook page.
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