Car congregations: Methodist parishes do drive-in church
First Fire began in a movie theater, and now it’s a drive-in church along with its sister parish, Trinity United Methodist.
The two congregations, and a few members of Winchester First UMC, had a worship service in Trinity’s parking lot Sunday, with vehicles facing the grassy hillside where Pastor Kevin Parido preached and his wife Sarabeth and guitarist Matt Crase performed praise songs.
The churches had their own radio transmitter, and the people listened in on 95.7 FM and sometimes offered an “Amen” by honking their horns.
“I think it’s a great idea to go to church and do social distancing,” said Dr. Rick Catron, who attended with his wife, Debbie.
He said he had experienced drive-in church before, when Bishop Al Gwynn, former pastor of Winchester First, offered it.
Parido admits he got the idea from Gwynn and presented it to the worship team, and they said, “Let’s do it.”
“I could see people’s faces through car windows, and they seemed excited,” Parido said. “It seemed like there was hope just because they could be out and see the people they’ve been missing for two or three weeks.”
“You could see people waving and smiling,” he said.
Parido said the two churches are still doing church online like almost everyone else — recording sermons and music and sharing them on YouTube — but the drive-in idea is a way to make it a little more intimate by actually being together, but at a safe distance. And the radio idea is an easier transition for some of the older members than worshipping online.
First Fire, which was started in 2007 at Movies 9 by former Winchester First Pastor James Williams, has many couples in their 20s and 30s with young children, and Trinity, whose building it shares, is mostly an older congregation.
During the worship service, Parido talked about the coronavirus and the fear and social isolation it has caused but urged his listeners to trust that “God is providing water in the desert, streams in the wasteland” for those who thirst spiritually.
“When we are in uncharted territory, we have to depend on who God is,” he said. “The first thing we need to remember today is this: God is a way maker … and he’s a bringer of the new.”
The service ended with Sarabeth Parido and Crase leading the congregation in singing, “How Great is Our God.”
The pastor urged members to reach out to one another during the week, and reminded them the two churches are still doing ministry, offering online small groups, delivering meals to at-risk children and providing a food pantry that does drive-through distribution once a month on Tuesdays.
Giving to the church has not fallen off substantially, he said.
Parido said Trinity and First Fire would continue to offer the drive-in church service unless the governor suggests a tighter lockdown.
On Sunday, members except those leading the service and ushers, stayed in their cars.
Rachel May DeBerdt, who attended the drive-in church with her husband, Brent, and children, Heidi and August, said that it was important for them to be able to see and connect with others while remaining safe.
“It gave us hope and reinforced the blessings we’ve had during this time to get closer to God and refocus on what is important: God, family and community,” she said.