Bloomington Church Preaches Hope At Easter Drive-In Service
Houses of worship remained closed across Illinois and the country on Easter Sunday as the COVID-19 pandemic forced congregations to move online.
One Bloomington church found a creative way to celebrate Christianity's holiest day of the year.
“Happy Easter everyone!” beamed Terry Fitts, technical director at Second Presbyterian Church, to an estimated gathering of more than 300 people. But Fitts wasn’t at the church. He was speaking from the second floor of a parking garage at State Farm Corporate South to a congregation that had gathered in the parking lot and were tuned to 88.7 FM, a radio frequency where they were able to participate in the service.
This wasn’t your traditional Easter service, but this isn’t your traditional Easter, either.
“Friends whatever this Easter is, it’s an Easter of improvisation,” Senior Pastor Trey Haddon told the congregation. “God has always done this.”
The church had performed drive-in services in the church parking lot the first three Sundays after Gov. JB Pritzker issued the stay-at-home order.
While most churches simply shifted to online services, Haddon felt that wasn’t enough.
“Looking into the community, I felt that the real need was actual in-person community as well as hope,” he said.
While the congregation watched and listened from within the confines of their vehicles, associate pastor Elissa Bailey noted it has given them a new way to participate -- by honking their horns as a substitute for saying, "Amen."
“We are actually finding more of that when we lead worship (outside) than we had in a regular church service,” Bailey noted.
During his sermon, Haddon likened the uncertainty of the pandemic to the Easter story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the uncertainty his followers felt before his resurrection.
“When Jesus was put into the tomb they went into hiding. They were isolated, they were locked away, they didn’t go out around people,” Haddon said. “I think that sounds very familiar to a lot of people in today’s world.”
Drive-in worship services haven’t been embraced everywhere. Kentucky’s governor considered them a violation of the distancing guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but a federal judge allowed the services to continue.
Haddon said he hasn’t heard any pushback from the Twin City community.
“I have heard around the country that being an issue, but locally people understand,” said Haddon, adding the church advises visitors to stay in their vehicles and keep their windows up at all times.
“Safety is the number one thing we are worried about. We don’t want anyone to come here and then get sick for worship,” he said.
Like many churches, Second Pres has had to collect tithes from its congregation to fund church operations without the traditional offering plate to pass along. The church has set up mailboxes where members can place their contributions.
Haddon said he was worried about the financial impact, but the congregation has largely adjusted.
“I’m not overly worried about the future, not the future of the church. I’m worried about the people who are literally staring and are wondering about their homes right now,” Haddon said.
Haddon hopes churches can take a key lesson from the pandemic -- that serving their community and preaching their church’s message are not just found inside the walls of the church.
“I think we need to be OK with doing things like this, not staying in the sanctuary, busting out of the sanctuary, playing away games, meeting people in the community outside the threshold of a church," Haddon said. "That’s what we have to do."
Bailey added the challenge of turning this experience into a new way of serving is something she hopes will reinvigorate the church.
“I think that there’s a lot of excitement around that, and I see a lot of that excitement continuing past COVID-19 when we are back in the sanctuary, back in the church for people to really reach out and want to do different things than we have done before,” Bailey said.
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