Worshipers honk horns and wave hands outside their driver-side windows. Others stand in the parking lot, raise their arms to the sky and snap photos with their phones while pastor Darrell Bruce delivers the sermon.
The group of about 20 to 30 people from about a dozen cars gathered in the parking lot at O’Kelly’s Deli & Pastries on Piney Forest Road on a cloudy and balmy Sunday morning.
They kept rapt attention on Bruce, who stood at the edge of the neighboring parking lot of Martinizing Dry Cleaning, facing the congregation.
“Wave if you can hear me,” Bruce told the small crowd, some of whom remained in their vehicles, at the start of the parking lot worship service.
The sermon focused on Joseph from the book of Genesis, comparing his sufferings and blessings to those of Jesus. Bruce, representing Power Hour Parking Lot Ministries, wanted listeners to see the similarities in their own lives as well.
“We want people to be encouraged,” Bruce said during an interview just before the service while he and a drummer and a keyboardist were setting up.
Bruce has led outside and parking lot ministries for more than 20 years. He held a drive-in service at O’Kelly’s the previous Sunday as well.
He held Sunday service, with permission from owner Gerald Kelly, to give churchgoers a chance to worship but be respectful of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re asking people to stay in their cars” or around them, Bruce said.
Ringgold resident Shirlene Rudder brought two grandchildren with her.
“I want to hear the word of the Lord,” she said inside her car just before it started.
Rudder, who normally attends Marion Baptist Church in Chatham, said her church was having its Sunday service on Facebook.
She doesn’t have Facebook and was invited to the service at O’Kelly’s, she said.
“I can hear the word of God out here in the open,” Rudder said.
To continue providing services during the pandemic, churches are offering a variety of electronic alternatives like livestreams, apps and YouTube videos, Time magazine reported Saturday. However, a rising number of pastors across the country have turned instead to an old-fashioned option: the drive-in, according to Time.
At least one other church in the Dan River Region offered parking lot services, including Emmanuel Pentecostal Holiness Church in Dry Fork.
Bruce’s mom and sister also attended to join in and show their support.
“Even though we can’t go into a building, we’re still getting the word of God,” said Bruce’s mother, Eunice Bruce.
“It’s food for the soul and it gives you something to go on for the week,” said his sister, Barbara Bruce. “It’s a blessing to meet and still hear the word of God. It’s a blessing to us all.”
During his sermon, Bruce sang while the band played gospel songs and called on worshipers to honk their horns.
At the other end of the O’Kelly’s parking lot, a man wandered to the edge of the property and sat on a curb, clapping his hands in rhythm to the music.
“How many of ya’ll want a download from Heaven?” Bruce asked the crowd before telling them they were the apple of God’s eye.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you ought to be able to praise the Lord wherever you are,” he told them. “Praise can happen anywhere; praise can happen everywhere.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.