With the latest lockdown measures in place for a few days, The Church on The Queensway got creative to bring its message to the community. And, it has been a huge success with worshippers packing the church parking lot every Sunday for a drive-in service.
Under normal circumstances, roughly 3,000 people attend Sunday morning services at this church, filling the pews and the parking lot. But, through the pandemic, the always-upbeat Pastor Billy Richards and the staff had to adjust.
When the pandemic originally began, The Church on the Queensway switched to virtual services where, Pastor Roger Berg explains, the 10 people permitted to be inside the church would prepare the mass, so that worshippers would still be able to attend as normally as was possible.
And then, as regulations changed and religious services were only able to operate at 15 per cent of building capacity, the church pivoted again.
“For us, 15 per cent is only 400 people,” Pastor Berg says. “It’s not worth our while to get everything sorted for that few people.”
They started offering services in the parking lot, similar to the drive-in concerts at City View or Ontario Place last summer, complete with live music and signs with messages for the crowd.
On one particular spring Sunday morning in April — rainy and grey as it was — dozens of cars pulled up into the church’s expansive parking lot, directed into makeshift lanes and spots facing the building. No one got out of their vehicles to enter the massive church. Underneath a ceiling of storm clouds and rain, worshippers listened and honked their horns as Pastor Richards offered his weekly service from an elevated wooden stage that hugs the walls of the church.
“We had done drive-in services last summer, before they allowed the churches to open again,” Pastor Berg explains, which gave them the idea to resume the drive-in option for the most recent stay-at-home order.
And so, prepared from the experiences last summer, The Church on the Queensway began offering drive-in services as well as virtual services, which they pre-record at 8 a.m. and livestream on the website. “While we do the drive-in church, we are still doing the virtual services,” Pastor Berg says, explaining that the church wants to offer people options that suit their comfort level and needs.
Pastor Richards, a charismatic, middle-aged man with a commanding presence and the voice of a performer, glides onto the stage after standing behind the musical acts, taking it all in. His bright red coat stands out, even behind windshields blurred by downpour.
Volunteers and organizers walked around in brightly coloured coats, ensuring engines weren’t idling and rules were followed.
“We’re happy you’re here,” “Please turn your engines off,” read the signs, which they carried throughout the parking lot throughout the service. Those in the parking lot were given the option to listen through car radios by tuning into 104.9FM, or listen to the church’s live sound system.
Instead of the usual cheers of acknowledgement and agreement, Pastor Richards asked for horn honks of jubilation and prayer, and rings of celebration filled the parking lot as he asked his parish to join him in prayer and love.
As usual, his sermon offered props, though this time his signs were passed through a window in the bottom corner of the stage, as he needed them. The pastor often uses props to accentuate his points, and he evidently did not let the stay-at-home order hamper his message of faith.
The drive-in service, for now, is an option The Church on the Queensway is comfortable with until the regulations change.
“We will continue to do drive-in services until they allow us to do 30 per cent,” Pastor Berg says. “When they give us 30 per cent we’ll resume in-person services, and if we need to, we’ll add an extra service.”
Under tents and in the rain, the 45-minute service opened and closed with a musical performance, with tarps to protect the electronics and the performers and pastor. Pastor Richards offered prayers for Prince Phillip, in light of the royal’s recent passing, as well as his usual religious offerings.
The Church on The Queensway will continue to offer Sunday morning drive-in services at both 9:30 a.m. and 11:11 a.m, as well as live-streaming through the church website. The church is located at 1536 The Queensway.