Church displaced by virus moves Easter service to beat storm

CLOVER, S.C. (AP) — When Pastor Matt McGarity looked out at his Clover, South Carolina, congregation, he saw a view unlike anything he’d seen before. The familiar faces of his flock were blurred behind vehicle windshields, with the exception a few children sticking their heads out of sunroofs. Some held onto dogs while others sat listening to the Easter service in their Sunday best — on a Saturday evening.

While many churches have made the decision to stream their Easter services online amid the coronavirus outbreak, Relevant Church chose to celebrate Christ’s resurrection together, but with the proper distance. A severe weather forecast forced the church to move Sunday’s service up.

Gloved volunteers carefully distributed prepackaged communion packets to families who drove into the YMCA parking lot. An email sent beforehand asked the congregation to remain in their vehicles, insisting bathroom facilities wouldn’t be available. Cars were spaced apart to comply with CDC guidelines and McGarity’s message was broadcast to their radios on an FM frequency.

“Maybe this is the start of a small radio ministry,” the pastor joked as he took the stage.

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As the worship team led the parking lot in the hymn “Jesus Paid It All,” Kendra Husband stretched her arm towards the sky through a crack in the passenger side window. Yes, the experience was a bit difference, but it didn’t inhibit Husband’s ability to worship.

She laughed when she realized the family who typically sits behind them in church was parked behind them.

“Instead of amen-ing or saying yes, we got to honk our horns, windshield wipers, hazards,” she said.

While McGarity, who also serves as a chaplain in the Navy Reserves, preached from the New Testament, cars sporadically honked in agreement. He encouraged it from his unusual pulpit.

“Let me hear some noise from this parking lot,” he told his congregation.

Kelly Hills said she is happy to see churches meeting the challenge of the virus and keeping congregations together.

“We felt tonight like we would any Easter morning. Joyful, expectant, hopeful,” she said.

Nearly 300 people attended Relevant’s unorthodox Easter service, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina.

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