AREA — Churches are partnering with local resources and redefining their concept of worship as they adapt to the restrictions imposed by Gov. Janet Mills’ Stay Healthy at Home Mandate. This past Mother’s Day, Emmanuel Assembly of God in Livermore Falls held its first drive-in service as did two parishes that assembled together at Farmington’s Narrow Gauge Cinema.

Father Paul Dumais who officiates over both Saint Joseph’s Parish in Farmington and Saint Rose’s Parish in Jay, spoke from the wooden platform beneath the towering, white screen of the drive-in theater with his robes blowing violently in the wind while his congregation sat cozily in their vehicles listening to his voice transmit through their radios.

The tinted windshields made it difficult for Dumais to gauge his audience like he normally would during a Mass at one of his parishes.

“The lack of human feedback felt very odd. It sort of felt like talking into a vacuum because especially at Saint Joseph’s, which is very small, it feels like you’re in a conversation,” he said.

With support from John Moore, the owner of Narrow Gauge Cinema, the two parishes were able to congregate safely and conduct their service. Moore directed vehicles into the dirt lot sectioned into rows with blocks of concrete and watched the service outside, bundled up with a mask covering his face.

“Look at the crowd here! It’s fantastic,” Moore said while keeping his hands warm in his pockets. “It’s gotta be 55-60 cars, and it’s 40 degrees, and it’s snowing.”

Parishioners of Saint Joseph and Saint Rose gathered in their vehicles at The Narrow Gauge Cinema Drive-in for a Catholic prayer service. Photo courtesy of John Moore.  

The Catholic service allowed Moore to test out the drive-in’s sound system before the theater’s reopening on Thursday, May 14. Moore is also thinking creatively about how to safely gather people and regain business and will be hosting several shows by comedian Bob Marley on Memorial weekend. However, the parishes were not charged for their use of the drive-in, and Moore encouraged other churches to utilize the cinema’s resources.

“During these times you want to help out where you can,” Moore said quietly as the sound of Dumais’ voice leaked out from the parked cars.

Pastor Jonathan Lang of Emmanuel Assembly of God in Livermore Falls also offered his resources as he prepared for the first drive-in service in the church’s dirt parking lot. “I am more than happy to sit down with other churches in the area or other businesses and just share what we’ve been doing and what equipment we got and how we did it,” Pastor Lang said in a phone interview. “I think right now, a generosity of information is really important for everybody’s success.”

Lang projected his sermon through a speaker that could be heard with car windows rolled down. The church has an FM transmitter ordered for future services, but there’s currently a back order on these sound systems as more churches around the country adapt to this new style of gathering.

“All of the things that we are doing now, like getting ready for this drive-in service, we’re maintaining that technology because if this (the COVID-19 virus) comes back in the winter we still want to be able to provide that again and kind of alter the way that we are doing church,” Pastor Lang said.

While these parking lot services offer a more tangible experience, they still do not provide a solution to certain traditions such as Holy Communion which Dumais said was not permitted at this time as it would pose a significant health risk.

“We didn’t have one of our major portions of the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist,” said Sexton of Saint Joseph’s Parish, Scott Taylor, who watched the service with his wife from the comfort of their truck parked in the front row of the drive-in. “But that’s not what this was about. This was a prayer gathering.”

Emmanuel Assembly of God has also implemented streamed sermons and worship music and now offers their congregants a free subscription to RightNow, an online service that offers Christian educational content for all ages to keep their members active in their spiritual practices.

Despite these new offerings, Lang iterated that what his congregants miss the most are the small groups that they would typically meet with throughout the week for Bible study. “This episode has really just galvanized our conviction that living life together between Sundays is something that is so important and vital to people’s spiritual health,” he said.

Dumais, who has streamed principal Mass services connected to Easter, also expressed the conviction that online platforms cannot replicate the feeling of in-person fellowship. Nonetheless, the blaring feedback he received from parishioners confirmed that the drive-in service was a much-welcomed compromise.

Taylor was one of many who blasted his horn to show his support for future car services. “Father asked if we should do this again next week. So the honking was for approval to go again for next week. It was pretty good, better than I expected,” he said.

, Franklin Journal

Area churches are finding new ways to offer services. Judy Pottle and Olive Couture of Saint Joseph’s Parish hand out carnations to attendees after a drive-in service held at Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington. Andrea Swiedom, Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

As Moore directed traffic out of his cinema’s lot and Dumais documented the scene with his cell phone propped high in the air with a selfie stick, two gloved and masked parishioners handed out long-stemmed carnations to mothers in departing cars.

About 75 congregants from Emmanuel Assembly of God showed up for the parking lot service and showed equal enthusiasm for future drive-in sermons. “Everybody absolutely loved it,” Pastor Lang said. “We got a number of calls, so glad that we were doing it. Overall, a very positive experience. We were glad to do it. We will keep doing it.”

 

 

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