Gerringong Uniting Church Drive-In Service, Stepping out in faith
For the first time, Gerringong Uniting Church will have a Drive-In service, an idea that was born out of necessity. Rev. Peter Chapman, Minister of this congregation, told Insights that they had to come up with an inventive way of being church together in these challenging times.
Rev. Chapman explained that they are fortunate to have a member of the congregation who volunteers his time producing community radio and offered to look after the technical side of things. This volunteer will broadcast the service on a very low power FM transmitter allowing people to tune their car radios into the set frequency without breaching broadcasting laws. They will also contract a temporary stage to ensure every car gets a clear view of what’s happening ‘upfront’.
Given that in ‘normal’ times, they get at least 120 people across two Sunday services, they hope to get around half that number for this experimental worship experience. This means they would fit around 40 to 50 cars, with possible overflow if needed, as they have a sizeable sloping grass expanse out front of their church building.
Rev. Chapman said that he came up with the idea cause Ministers are always on the lookout for new ideas and resources. He had seen online that churches elsewhere around the world were being inventive, so when someone offered to provide the broadcasting tech, he knew he needed to try it out.
“We really are stepping out in faith with this service and have no idea what to expect other than some anecdotal feedback that has been largely positive. People are excited about it, partly due to its novelty value and partly due to the opportunity to connect in some form. I sense some of our older folk will still be hesitant to come out and be around large crowds of people, even in their cars, and others have given the honest feedback that the like watching the serve form home” Chapman stated.
During the pandemic, like most other churches, they are putting their Sunday worship online, but they took an extra step forward and are giving their folk the chance to interact daily in a half-hour catch-up and prayer via Zoom. The pastoral staff have divided the congregation and taken the responsibility to call each of them regularly so that no one gets left behind or feels isolated. Their Kids Club gets regular online challenges, and their youth group has also got into the world of online games as a means of staying connected.
Being a small-town church, Gerringong sense of community is a crucial part of their DNA. They have a long tradition of ‘belonging before believing’ which enables everyone to feel comfortable fellowshipping. They became part of the Building a Discipling Culture network (see bdc.org.au), a non-denominational movement keen to see the church return to her primary calling or ‘core business’ from Matt 28.
When Insights asked Peter how he envisions the church after COVID-19, he said that he feels the church will look quite different when we emerge out the other side of this pandemic. He senses the last vestiges of Christendom will have been mostly shed as many of those people with only a nominal faith in Christ will have got into the habit of staying home and simply will not return to regular worship. On the other hand, he said that “we are getting lots of reports of people with little or no connection with church plugging in via the online content, we are praying that God will do a new thing through his church in this new season”.