TORRINGTON – The coronavirus pandemic has forced communities to adapt to a new way of life. While this virus keeps people physically apart, churches are still finding ways to be together.
The followers of various faiths gather together to sing, praise and worship in group, from a handful to the hundreds. In some churches, greeting your neighbors, shaking hands and spending time together are as important as the messages from the pulpits.
Today, though, it’s all about staying safe, protecting personal space and social distancing. And local churches have embraced those new necessities while still protecting their rights to worship as they please.
“We just have to adapt and figure out how to do that in a different way,” Pastor Paul Braddy of SONrise Church said,
With that in mind, more than 150 families braved a cold and snowy Easter morning on Sunday to flock to a different kind of service – live in a church parking lot. Cars and trucks covered the tarmac at the former Shopko building along the U.S. Hwy. 26 frontage road in Torrington for Easter Sunday services, a partnership between SONrise and Lifeway churches in town.
“We’re trying to reach out to all of our folks in our church and people that we know in the community and see how we can meet tangible needs,” said Braddy. “We’re just trying to be available in any way we can to help and also be safe.”
Pastor Paul Dyer, who leads Lifeway Church in Torrington, said Sunday’s was the second parking lot service of the Easter season. An estimated 50 vehicles congregated in the parking lot at his church on East M Street in Torrington on Palm Sunday, tuning in to his sermon via their built-in car radios.
Based on the success of that sermon last week, Dyer and Braddy got together to plan for a larger gathering on Easter Sunday.
“We wanted to honor the social distancing requirements, but knew it was important to meet together,” Dyer said. “How do we do that?”
They knew – or hoped – they’d need a larger venue, given the significance of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection surrounding the Easter observance. A bigger celebration called for a bigger parking lot, Dyer said, and the lot at SONrise Church fit the bill.
In a video posted to social media announcing the joint service, Dyer and Braddy explained their plan.
“What this is not going to be, this is not going to be a tailgate party, it’s not something to come and get out of your vehicles,” Dyer said. “We want this to be a safe time to come worship. You don’t have to be a part of either of our churches to come and worship.
During his sermon, Dyer also noted the significance of the public nature of the location. Rather than somewhat secreted along a little-traveled side street in Torrington, SONrise Church is in view of all the east-west traffic traveling on the highway.
That, he said, sent a strong, positive message to travelers who saw the large gathering of vehicles – We will survive.
“What an incredible opportunity to worship God, right here along the highway,” Braddy said in the advance video.
A few things were obviously different – instead of vocal proclamations of their faith, worshipers turned to the next best thing, honking their horns to show their appreciation for the music or a particular point Dyer made during his sermon. At one point, as he stood in the chilly breeze on the back of a flat-bed trailer, Dyer even quipped he might have to hand out small horns for his congregation, once things are back to normal and he’s preaching in a nice, warm sanctuary again.
The drive-in services are just one technique churches around the area and around the country are using. Some are using technology to connect with their congregations, from sending out emails to streaming on Facebook Live and using video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Others are using tried and true methods of long-distance communication.
Pastor Scott Firminhac of Our Savior Lutheran said the elders of his church are phoning members of their church to make sure everything is alright and ask if they need anything. Churches also getting creative in other ways.
On April 5, Palm Sunday, First Congregational Church placed palm branches out on their steps for their congregation so they could follow the tradition despite not being in church.
“We’re trying to adjust and adapt as best as we can and keep doing what we do,” said Braddy.