Easter services adjust in response to COVID19
Preaching to parked parishioners is how some Wichita pastors greet their congregation Easter Sunday as COVID-19 leaves them adjusting to a new normal of empty sanctuaries.
Many churches have moved to stream their services into the homes of their congregations, while a few still make it possible for their congregation to meet at the parking lot.
"They're excited, even though they're stuck in cars," said Glorious Bible Church Pastor Kenneth Powers.
This is the first Sunday service in a few weeks Pastor Kenneth Powers at Glorious Bible Church in west Wichita has seen his congregation through more than a screen.
"It has been hard. We're a really close-knit congregation. There's about 200 of us," said Pastor Powers. "It's been hard not being able to see them except through Zoom."
Easter Sunday is bringing some of his members back, even though they're sitting in pews made by Chevy, Ford and Hyundai, and that's where they'll sit cocooned for this drive-in service.
"We checked with the officials. We called Sedgwick County, we called the police department, we also talked to the state health department to find out what we could do that was in the guidelines that would not cause any problems," said Pastor Powers.
Ushers with measuring sticks make sure cars don't park closer than six feet together, and with windows rolled slightly down, the sermon and music ease into their vehicles for one of the Holiest days for the Christian faithful.
"This is like the centerpiece for our faith." Pastor Powers said, "This is about the ending of our old life through Jesus through crucifixion and resurrection."
Amazing Grace Baptist Church in southeast Wichita has been holding drive-in services for the past few weeks.
"I did that for the older people, especially. They felt more comfortable coming to church, just being able to sit in their cars," said Amazing Grace Baptist Church Pastor Richard Haley. "We were originally just having church like normal, and it made it easier for people to come and sit in the parking lot, sit in their cars, and do it that way."
Pastor Richard Haley said he also reach out to the county before beginning to offer the service.
"Here at drive-in service, we're cautious with people, taking steps that will help people," said Pastor Haley.
Easter services in Kansas have another backdrop. The day before, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld Governor Laura Kelly's executive order that limits in-person church gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
It was after the Legislative Coordinating Council revoked the order last week.
The Kansas Supreme Court Justices wrote in their opinion that the ruling addressed legislative procedure and not religious freedom.
Pastor Haley does not support the executive order.
"My job as a pastor is to listen to the government's recommendations to the church and say hey, these are some things we want to work with you on to help make things safe, but never to cross the line and start mandating how I do and what I do," said Pastor Haley.
Pastor Haley said this order crosses that line.
"When the recommendations came out, that was not a problem. I started, of course, having the drive-in services, hand sanitizing, social distancing, all those things. I understand those things entirely," said Pastor Haley. "But when an executive order comes out, so what now she has does is taken her authority and put it over God's authority and said you're going to do what we've told you to do, no matter what. There's no reason as for me, as a pastor, that I can respect that decision because you cross the line into what's no God's territory."
His main worry is worship will be criminalized, similar to actions that have been taken in other states.
Pastor Haley said, "If a pastor is not being cautious, I think that's wrong, but I don't think a pastor should have to worry about possible jail or fines for all of his people they want to be able to come to church."
Pastor Haley said he hopes the government listens to his concerns and is willing to work with them to help find a solution that meets the needs for addressing COVID-19.
"Even in a time of crisis, the word of God and the Constitution are still at play," said Pastor Haley. "So for me as a pastor, I've very hesitant when the Constitution begins to be overwritten, even in time of crisis because if they do that in a time of crisis, what are they going to do in the future when, when there's not a crisis, but they're taking steps to infringe on those rights."
At GBC, Pastor Powers said there is a difficulty when this kind of order is used but also sees why it was taken.
"There's always a concern when we're not able to get together," said Pastor Powers. "I understand why she's doing that. I think there's wisdom. There's wisdom, and yet it's kind of hard to not be able to freely come together. As I said, we will do what we need to do while this is going on."
He added, "I understand that she wants to make sure we don't spread the virus, and she's trying to do what she can. We've never really been in this situation before, and all of us are learning, and all of us are having to think outside of the box, and so I think sometimes, these things force us to do things that we wouldn't have thought of before."
On Easter, Pastor Powers is taking in the ability to be closer to his congregation even if it has a car door in between.
Pastor Powers said, "We're giving honor to the Lord, we're respecting the government and what they're trying to do, and we're praying as the body of Christ this virus and epidemic we're facing to end quickly."
Amazing Grace Baptist Church and Glorious Bible Church also stream their services online.