When Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1, it listed religious services as “essential.”
The order prohibited any orders or conflicting actions by local officials curbing gatherings of 10 or more in response to COVID-19. The response has met controversy, with some Florida county officials feeling powerless to stop large gatherings and others calling for religious freedom in the face of a disaster.
With Palm Sunday already celebrated and Good Friday and Easter Sunday approaching, some churches are meeting in the middle by coming up with innovative ways to congregate.
Church of Our Savior, an Angelicin church in Jacksonville Beach, is keeping its gatherings socially in vogue while throwing it back old school with a “drive-in”-style sermon.
“It was really fun because we used beeping [car horns] to get some excitement from the congregation,” said Jen Crews, connection coordinator. “We waved to each other from the car. Even though we couldn't touch each other, I still really felt it was exciting and fun to do. People really reacted well to participating in that way.”
The church hosted two drive-in-style services on Palm Sunday. Congregants stayed in their vehicles and were instructed to turn their stations to 103.3 FM. On their radios, they heard Rev. David Ball’s sermon as he stood on a podium at the end of the field. Additionally, the sermon was live broadcast on YouTube and Facebook for those staying home.
“Our congregation is many people over 60 so we wanted to [keep them safe],” Crew said. “We know a lot of people are choosing to stay home, which is awesome and it's the first time our congregation was able to see a live stream of our church. It was pretty exciting.”
The Church of Our Savior expects a pretty big turnout for their Easter Sunday event, making room for 105 cars and hiring the Jacksonville Beach police to direct traffic. Because of the serious and uncertain nature of the pandemic, many people are turning to religion to help them cope. According to Crews, many participants of their events were not part of their normal congregation, or even, their religious sect.
“I had a Baptist woman message me,” said Crews. “She said, ‘It just felt so great to be part of a worship service again.’ We are hoping for a big turnout on Sunday.”
The Church of Our Savior hosted Palm Sunday with two services. A Good Friday at noon and Easter Sunder at 7, 8:30 and 10 a.m. For more information visit www.church-savior.com.