Outdoor Worship Services Bring Smiles Under Face Masks

07.01.20 | Homepage | by Kimberly Durnan

    Lawn chairs, shade trees, and face masks make for another pivot by some Episcopal churches as they find new ways to worship in the uncertain days of Covid. Creative solutions for safety and worshiping in-person include drive-in style, family “circles” in the parking lot and big lawns.  And, of course, face masks. 

    “We now know we can safely sit 125 people under our shade trees,” said the Rev. Andrew Van Kirk, St. Andrew’s in McKinney. “It’s breezy up here in McKinney.” The church has counted as many as 125 people in the outdoor service which starts at 9 a.m. Everyone brings their own lawn chairs, they wear t-shirts and shorts, and sing along with the praise band. Worshipers may pick up baggies of consecrated wafers for Eucharist and sing along with the band, Van Kirk said. “It’s not the same, there are a lot more distractions, cars and birds, but it’s a chance for people to worship together and sing,” he said. The church still offers an online service for those who want to worship at home.

    At Church of the Epiphany in Richardson the parking lot has painted circles for families to sit during the outdoor service, yet remain safely socially distanced from each other. “It’s going very well,” said the Rev. David Petrash. “It’s well-organized. Families gather in one of the circles and that keeps them spread out.” If parishioners do not wish to participate in the 7 a.m. outdoor service, they may still watch the 10 a.m. livestream service. There is also a trained Eucharist team to deliver the consecrated sacrament to folks on their porch in a distance-safe way, Petrash added.

    At Emmanuel in Garland, the Rev. Daniel Ofoegbu, brings out the sound system to broadcast an outdoor service drive-in style. Parishioners drive onto the grassy expanse of the lawn and park under a shade tree with the car doors open and/or windows rolled down. They read along, sing along and worship from their cars. 

    A shady portico at St. Paul’s makes the 9 a.m. outdoor service comfortable for the summer months, said the Rev. Tom Smith. “A lot of parishioners love it more than the indoor service,” he said. “We begin with a song, end with a song, have two readings, a sermon and processional,” which is a little shorter than the pre-Covid service. “It’s good to be together even if it is for a few minutes.”

    Parishioners keep out a few extra lawn chairs for walk-ups during the outdoor service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, which worships Sundays at 8 a.m., their regular schedule, that also helps them beat the heat. “It’s going well, and people enjoy being able to see each other across the lawn, even in masks, with eyes smiling,” the Very Rev. Rob Price said. “It’s solidifying to our core parishioners to be outdoors and together.”

    Everyone is asked to wear a mask, dress comfortably, bring lawns chairs and bug spray. The church already has a committee tasked to figure outdoor worship for Christmas Eve service complete with greenery and perhaps caroling. “We are bringing back traditions,” Price said. Leadership at the Cathedral is intentional about making it through this difficult season in a worshipful way. “We are going to worship as much as we can, as safely as we can,” Price said. “That’s a winning combination for sustainability.”