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An Alabama Church Service Heads To The Drive-In Theater


Churches have had to adapt to a world with the coronavirus. Social distancing and bans on large groups mean many regular Sunday gatherings just aren't possible. Some have moved to livestreaming their services; others have posted videos that church members can watch at their leisure. But Andrew Yeager with WBHM found a church that's trying another option - a drive-in service.



ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: At Clanton First United Methodist Church, about an hour south of Birmingham, ushers would normally be guiding people to their seats. But on a recent Sunday, they were directing traffic onto a grassy lot across from the church building.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Watch this hole right here.

YEAGER: Pat Baker is in one of those cars with her husband, daughter and toddler granddaughter Henley. Baker says they've been cooped up and what better place to go than church. Henley can hardly contain herself.

PAT BAKER: (Laughter).

HENLEY: A car.

BAKER: Cars, yeah. She don't know what's going on, but she's excited. One thing - good thing about it - we can roll the window up when she gets too loud (laughter).

YEAGER: Pastors Wes and Meghan Kelley co-lead the church. Wes Kelley says Internet can be slow in a rural area, plus livestreaming takes a lot of work for church volunteers - thus the drive-in. There are restrictions, given the corona virus. No one is allowed out of their cars, so no bathrooms. Church member Angela Bachelor is a nurse with training in disaster response. Today, she's wearing rubber gloves.

ANGELA BACHELOR: As they put it, my job is to - if we see them getting out of the cars, I'm supposed to be the nice-but-yet hammer and go and just say, no, no, no, you got to get back in your car.

YEAGER: A keyboardist sits under a tent. In front of that is scaffolding, holding a pulpit. Pastor Meghan Kelley scales the tower and looks out at the dozens of cars lined up in the grass.

MEGHAN KELLEY: Good morning, friends. It is so good to see everybody. I did not realize how much I missed seeing your faces. You guys are so great to come out today.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing) Come thou fount of every blessing...

YEAGER: In many respects, it's like any other church service. They sing. They pray. Pastor Wes Kelley delivers a sermon via loudspeaker.

WES KELLEY: We're going to strip away all the fluff because now what God's teaching us is a lot of the things we thought we had to have, a lot of the things that we thought were necessities, were actually just luxuries.

YEAGER: No handshaking or communion, of course. Churchgoers are encouraged to wave at one another or text. But there is one thing that would not happen in a regular service. As the last prayer is spoken, the kids move to the driver's seats - and, well, have you ever heard of a joyful noise?

KELLEY: Amen. All right, let's hear it kids (laughter).


YEAGER: The cars stream out past a collection bucket by the exit. It's not the regular service at Clanton First United Methodist Church, but it is a sense of normalcy at a time in which that could be hard to find.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Clanton, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Yeager
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