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Congregations gather together outside or in cars

Some churches in the area took key steps toward a gradual return to full, in-person services Sunday, May 17.

The steps came just two days after Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam officially relaxed restrictions on church gatherings in Phase 1 of his plan to reopen the state following the shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calvary Chapel Farmville (CCF) had not physically gathered together since March, but held an outdoor, in-person service Sunday on its front lawn at 302 Industrial Park Road.

“This was a great first step,” CCF Pastor Marv Fisher said. “The biggest thing was just how many showed up.”

He estimated there were about 150 people in attendance.

“I never expected this many people,” he said. “I was totally surprised.”

However, he noted the church did not have many of its elderly in attendance.

Precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus were definitely being taken, though.

Upon pulling into the parking lot, those attending the service were greeted by an usher who asked if they would be listening to the service from their vehicle or outside on the front lawn. If they said from their vehicle, they would be directed to the edge of the front lawn where a line of vehicles were parked at an angle for optimal viewing of the worship team and Fisher, who ministered from a trailer bed serving as an elevated stage set off from the congregation.

“We thought we’d have more people end up staying in their cars, honestly,” Fisher said. “If it had been chilly or something, we would have, probably, but (we) really didn’t have that many that stayed in their car.”

For those who told the usher they would attend the service outside on the lawn, they were directed to park in the regular parking lot. Another usher greeted people as they exited their cars, asking if they would like a bottle of water.

The front lawn allowed plenty of room for people to spread out and practice social distancing.

“I think for the most part, I see people spread out when they sat,” Fisher said. “They stayed together as families. I was happy to see that.”

Some sat on folding outdoor chairs, and some children sat on blankets, since the ground was dry enough for that.

The rain poured Saturday night in Farmville, creating some doubt the outdoor service would happen, but a limited indoor service was a ready option.

“We were prepared inside,” Fisher said, noting everything was wiped down. “We were ready for half capacity.”

He noted CCF was in a good position to hold an in-person service right after the governor allowed for it because the church’s leadership team had been planning throughout the pandemic.

Fisher said he was so grateful the outdoor option worked because it allowed for more people to attend, and it avoided so many indoor COVID-19 safety hazards.

“It’s the safest thing to do because no door knobs, no going in and out,” he said. “Everybody can come, (they) brought their own chairs for the most part, so we’re not handling (them). Everyone’s family kind of took their own blankets. To me, that’s about as safe as you can get, really.”

He also mentioned efforts were made to keep the service short enough to minimize the need for trips to the bathroom inside the church.

The worship team and Fisher were clearly audible to those at the back of the lawn and in the vehicles thanks to an effective sound system put together by the church’s information technology (IT) team, which also filmed the service for posting online later that day.

Those in attendance enjoyed the service and the setting.

“I like being outdoors,” Edgar Jones said. “Being able to honor the social distancing requirements and that kind of thing but still be able to worship together is just a joy.”

Annie Pope said being back was awesome, and Crit Petersheim said it basically felt like the good old days.

“It’s good to be back (and) see people,” he said. “That’s the great part — just to see people’s faces.”

He affirmed being outdoors made it easier to manage small children during the service as well.

Fisher said CCF will not be doing anything inside for a while.

“I’m going to evaluate things this week and then follow up next week with a little more instruction, try to improve, try to guide,” he said. “But I feel thankful.”

Bethel Grove Baptist Church, located at 10844 Green Bay Road, held its first drive-in service Sunday since the area quarantine began. Congregants parked their vehicles along the side of the church with their windows rolled down as Pastor John Hurt preached and led them in song from an elevated ramp.

“One thing about the ministry that I found out — when you become a pastor, you become daddy to a lot of people,” Hurt said. “And it’s good this morning to see my children — out. And that lets me know that they believe in the mission. That just does my heart good to see. We don’t have all our crowd here. Some may have heard, some may not have heard, but it’s good to have the ones here that are here.”

Hurt had the use of a speaker system but ended up going without it.

“My voice did pretty good,” he said.

He directly addressed the coronavirus in his message.

“I said to my people this morning, ‘This virus, it’s a mean thing, but it’s just one thing. God is everything, and if we keep our mind that God is everything, we’ll be alright,’” he said. “We’ve put the blood of Jesus on our doorposts, and we’re not worried about it.”

Josephine Hurt, one of the people in attendance, said the service was really good.

“It’s good just to hear the word, get back into hearing the word,” she said.