Following a tradition dating back centuries, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church's congregation will gather outdoors bright and early to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
But in a move made to honor government social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, church members such as Mark and Debbie Rychak will take in the message and the music from inside their car at the Silver Drive-in in Richland Township.
"For years, our church had a sunrise service outdoors through the East Hills Ministerium – and this gives us a chance to do that again," said Debbie Rychak, a longtime church member. "In this time of so much uncertainty, it's important that we find a way to come together – even if it's in our cars – to celebrate one thing that is certain: that Jesus died for our sins and rose again on Easter morning."
Mount Calvary is one of more than a half dozen churches planning services Easter weekend at the Scalp Avenue landmark.
Drive-in operator Rick Rosko said attendees will be able to broadcast the services, scripture and songs through their FM radios.
"With everything that's going on right now, I think people are all doing a little more praying right now," Rosko said. "We're happy to be able to give them a place where they can to do it together."
'God is bigger' than virus
Crucified Ministries Pastor Josh Knipple welcomed the opportunity.
Christians are well aware that "God is bigger than the coronavirus," Knipple said.
But weeks of social distancing and isolation can be difficult for everyone – especially those who are alone. Those factors can lead to stress and anxiety, he added.
"The church as a whole was designed for community and togetherness," Knipple said. "In times like these, it's important that we lift each other up and share each other's burdens."
As a community, "we need each other right now," he said.
"This will give everyone a way to gather safely, open their car windows, sing along and be ministered to," Knipple said.
Knipple is organizing a nondenominational Easter Sunday evening service at the Drive-in.
Details are still being finalized, but church leaders from Liberty Grace, The Journey, Franklin Street United Methodist and Oakland United Methodist will all be involved, he said. The 8 p.m. event will be pre-recorded, so that it can be projected on the Silver Drive-in's large screen.
Liberty Grace is also planning a Good Friday service on April 10.
On April 11, Emmanuel Church in Richland will hold a 7:45 p.m. service, followed by Westmont-based Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church at 9:30 p.m.
Worship and 'still be safe'
Mount Calvary Lutheran will hold two services – one at 8 a.m. and another at 10:30 a.m. – on Easter morning.
The church is partnering with Benscreek Evangelical Lutheran, with plans to have a tent at one end of the drive-in, allowing pastors Scott Klimke and Jonathan Adams to address the crowd, Mark Rychak said.
"The entire community is invited," Debbie Rychak added.
Rosko said he is preparing the site for the worshippers.
Because no tickets are needed, guests will be able to drive right into the site and park without making contact with anyone.
A Facebook page for Mount Calvary's event, noting "worshippers will be asked to remain inside their vehicles."
Attendees are invited to bring bread or crackers from home to participate in Holy Communion.
"We can worship – and still be safe," Debbie Rychak said.