By Mike Kinney
Nearly every Sunday since joining First Presbyterian Church in 2005, Pastor Jim Wheeler has attended the church’s drive-in services. He says he’s only missed it three times.
“One was back in 1992 when the storms were really bad,” Pastor Jim said. “The church started this tradition of drive-in Sunday services back in 1973.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, drive-in services were viewed as especially helpful to mobility-impaired parishioners, as they don’t have to leave their vehicles to participate. During the pandemic, the services are additionally viewed as a way for church patrons to assemble for Sunday services while practicing proper social distancing. On Easter Sunday, about 30 cars were in attendance at the service, which takes place at 8:30 a.m. weekly at the Appian 80 Shopping Center, right off I-80 and Appian Way.
“We have a small radio transmitter that can broadcast about a quarter of a mile,” Pastor Jim said. “You simply turn on your car radio to AM 540 and you will hear the sermon live. All you need is a working radio to tune into the shortwave broadcast.”
The service is sponsored by First Presbyterian Church, located at 35th Street and Barrett Avenue in Richmond. All attendees are asked to stay in their cars with rolled up windows at all times in respect for the current COVID-19 health issue. No bulletins are passed out and no offerings are collected to maintain the social distance. Instead, donations are encouraged online at pcrichmond.org or by mail.
The only staff on site is one worship leader or preacher at the pulpit, one sound technician in the truck. The pastor or elder conducting the service will offer prayer, recorded music and a sermon.
“Preaching to car windshields you see people listening to the broadcast, you can really tell they are involved in the sermon,” Pastor Jim said. “It’s a little different preaching to windows but in some respects it’s no different than preaching in the sanctuary.”
Also, “If people want to say Amen or Hallelujah during the sermon they honk their car horns,” the pastor added.
“One of the advantages for the drive-in service, it is easier on people with mobility issues,” Pastor Jim said. “The drive-in service only requires people with mobility issue to get into their car to come to service. When the service is over all they have to do is drive home.”
For those who don’t even want to leave their homes to begin with, the Sunday services can also be viewed on Zoom or Facebook Live.
“We have people come to Sunday service dressed in their pajamas and robes, they bring their pets as well,” Pastor Jim said. “We have had people bring their dogs and cats. I have even seen someone who brought their duck to our drive-in service.”
Bottom line: “Come in your PJs, with your pets, bring your breakfast, or however you are comfortable,” Pastor Jim said.