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Churches Meet In Unconventional Ways To Maintain Social Distancing And Protect Health Of Members

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Jennifer Brown
/
Hoptown Chronicle

On Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week for Christians, two Hopkinsville churches took unprecedented steps to worship outside their familiar sanctuaries.

St. John United Methodist Church members met for a drive-in service in the large parking lot behind the South Virginia Street church. And First Christian Church had a palm parade through town led by the senior pastor, the Rev. Wade Miller, driving the church van with four members of his family on board.

At St. John, congregants in 50 cars crept into the lot and parked under the direction of three men who wore surgical-style masks and protective gloves. 

“Oh gracious God how wonderful it is to be here today. Perhaps we are not inside the church walls but we know that we are the church here in the parking lot. So, Lord, … we give you thanks and praise,” the Rev. Janet Carden prayed over a loud speaker. 

It was the fourth Sunday since many Kentucky churches had first followed Gov. Andy Beshear’s request that they not have in-person worship that could further spread the novel coronavirus. 

The governor’s request was eventually replaced by a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people. Most churches transitioned to virtual worship streamed live on the internet, although a few churches around the state continued to meet in defiance of the governor’s order. Beshear suggested in his daily briefing Sunday that the state might act within a few days to close churches that refuse to abide by the order. 

St. John was among the first to offer a drive-in service Sunday morning. 

Local and state health officials stressed some rules for churches that plan to have drive-in worship. There must be at least six feet of space between cars. Worshippers must remain in they cars. Only members of one family may share a vehicle. And no one may pass anything between cars, including communion elements or a collection plate. 

Tom Sholar, who chairs St. John’s council, said the idea for a drive-in church came to him Tuesday evening when he and his wife sat in their car behind the church eating dinner from Chick-fil-A. 

St. John has a large parking lot, so it could easily accommodate an outdoor service. 

Sholar called Carden as he sat outside the church to share his idea. She was already thinking the same thing and called the church’s district superintendent to get his blessing. 

Throughout the service, birds chipped. A few times, everyone honked their car horns in appreciation for a song by music director Barbara Felts.  

About an hour after St. John’s service ended and the cars filed out, another group assembled in a car line at First Christian Church to begin the palm parade. About 20 cars fallowed the church van on a route past places the church would pray for — including schools, nursing homes and Jennie Stuart Medical Center.

The pastor’s daughter, Clarissa Miller, on the bus with her family, described the route as it unfolded live in a Facebook video

“We did get permission (from police) for this … so we are not breaking any laws by being annoying,” she joked as she described her father’s slow pace in the lead vehicle. 

She added, “Even though we are socially distant, we are having fun with this.”

As the caravan made its way up South Main Street, members waved palm fronds from open windows.

Miller encouraged church members to continue praying through the week for the community.

“If you go by the hospital or a doctor’s office pray for our medical professionals,” he said.

Health officials have warned that this week will bring a surge of deaths from COVID-19. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it will be the “hardest and saddest” week most American living today have ever experienced.

As the crisis unfolds, churches will prepare for Easter services in settings never imagined to celebrate their belief that God raised Jesus from the dead.

(Jennifer P. Brown is the editor and founder of Hoptown Chronicle. Reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org.)

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