The Rev. Melissa Warren had an idea for “taking Christ to the streets,” going to where the people are.
The pastor had been looking at the empty pews in her two churches – Wellman’s Asbury United Methodist Church and West Chester United Methodist Church, pews emptied by state mandates banning public gatherings of more than 10 people.
Sunday, about 15 cars lined up in the parking lot at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Highway 22 for the parish’s first church service since social distancing rules were announced in March.
Warren sat at the top of stairs leading from the parking lot to the church with Carol Hulseberg at the piano and Mike McVey making all of the technology work.
After weeks being apart, Warren wanted to make this an Easter celebration, even if it came weeks after Easter.
She talked about how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the disciples to give them hope.
“What a great opposite to what we are afraid to do with one another,” Warren said.
“It really struck me how social distancing and being unable to support one another in person made feeling hopeful and connected to our faith very difficult and confusing and a bit more scary,” she said, adding that must have been how the early disciples felt after the crucifixion – “uncertain, scared, lost and not sure where to turn.”
There were hoops to jump through to make the services possible. Warren sought and received approval from the city of Wellman and the Washington County Public Health department.
She was given a set of rules:
• No one was allowed to leave their vehicle for any reason.
• All windows had to remained rolled up.
• No food, papers or offering may be collected or distributed between vehicles.
• People who were sick had to stay home.
On top of that, Warren was tested for COVID-19. The test came back negative.
Parishioner Mike McVey, who calls himself the church’s roadie, took care of the technical side, setting up the sound system at the top of the parking lot and adding an FM transmitter so that parishioners could hear the services on their vehicle radios.
The plan is to continue the drive-in worship until it is safe to return to the church building. Even then, the services will be transmitted to the parking lot so anyone feeling anxious or concerned about health-related issues can worship.
Everyone is welcome, Warren said. The services begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
“We would love to share the opportunity to worship with anyone who wants to join us,” she said.