For one California congregation, finding a satisfying COVID-considerate solution to in-person worship meant not returning to their sanctuary. In March, Hope Community Church in Riverside, Calif., responded to the pandemic the way other churches did: providing online streaming when gathering in large groups indoors was prohibited. But it quickly became apparent that livestream was not reaching most of the congregants.
Pastor Andy Hanson moved to pre-record and post his sermons on the church’s website instead, providing the recording on compact disc for those without reliable internet access. “But with every passing week, I felt more removed from my congregants and the message more distant,” Hanson said.
When the state guidelines opened up to allow for limited capacity meetings, the church decided that wasn’t an option for them, given the percentage of vulnerable members at Hope Community. The council and worship leaders then worked toward having a drive-in Sunday service where members could safely gather outdoors.
For the past 10 weeks—except for one where 117-degree (47-degree C) heat meant canceling a service—they’ve been worshiping in the parking lot, an FM transmitter relaying the service up to a quarter mile (1.6 km). The service begins at 9 a.m. instead of the usual 10:30 a.m., to beat the heat of the day. About 30% of the congregation has been attending, and guests have also been part of the returning group. Parking attendants direct parishioners to keep their vehicles at a 6-foot (2-meter) distance. Hanson is still sharing weekly worship recordings too.
The pastor is grateful for the in-person connection he is able to have while leading worship and giving the weekly message from a makeshift pulpit in the church parking lot.
Riverside’s county has the second-highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the state, a reality that this congregation does not take lightly. Hanson noted that he is blessed with a council that is concerned about the congregation’s spiritual, mental, and as well as physical well-being.
Cathy Rott White, a Hope Community congregant, is thankful too. “Hope Community’s ultimate concern is for the health and well-being of their members, taking every measure of safety precautions to ensure everyone is safe and stays healthy,” she said. “We are grateful to be able to come to our church property and worship together in the parking lot.”