For Mauldin First Baptist Church at 150 Main Street in Mauldin SC, Easter came in a different way this year. When it became clear that the usual Easter venue could not happen due to Coronavirus constraints, Senior Pastor Wade Leonard and staff set into motion an ambitious plan to celebrate this special day of faith in a new and creative way, one that could capture the joy but maintain the social distancing.
They set about to create a unique drive-in Easter experience and livestream the service for those unable to come. The effort required many volunteers and hours of careful planning and rehearsal. It began with the purchase of a special FM transmitter that could broadcast the audio portion of the service to car radios on a unique FM station. The audiovisual crew laid reams of cables to transmit signals from audio mixer and multiple video cameras to a video switcher from which the service could be livestreamed onto the internet. Paula Southwell, Preschool and Children’s Pastor at Mauldin First, recruited additional volunteers to greet, pass out materials, and direct parking.
Church planners took several things into consideration to provide a safe but worshipful experience for those who came. As participants drove up in their vehicles, posted signs indicated what information they needed to provide and guided them to tables where greeters distributed pre-packaged and sealed communion supplies with wafers and juice. Children received a special bag with candy and activities to occupy them in the car. As participants tuned into the radio station, a message from the pastor greeted them and provided additional instructions and safety information. Greeters and volunteers wore gloves and masks where appropriate and practiced social distancing.
As Holy Week ticked by, it became clear that another huge obstacle loomed in their future—the weather. The Easter Sunday forecast called for morning rain showers and worsening conditions throughout the evening. On Friday, church staff decided to boldly move forward with the event but on Saturday evening, April 11, 2020 at 6 pm rather than Easter morning. Last minute changes had to be made to the signs advertising the worship service. With fewer than twenty-four hours of notice about the date and time change, planners wondered what the turnout for the drive-in event might be!
On that Saturday evening, one car after another drove quietly into the church parking lot. At last, everyone settled into place and listened as James Tegeler opened the celebration by triumphantly reading the Easter story from the Gospel of Mark. Five church musicians with keyboard, guitars, and drum raised their voices in celebratory song including both traditional and contemporary arrangements. Then, Rev. Leonard mounted a scissor lift so that he could deliver a stirring message above the height of the cars so everyone could see him. Participants, in obvious delight, honked their horns and flashed their car lights to answer questions posed by Rev. Leonard during his sermon.
Twenty-seven volunteers including greeters, parking attendants, an “Easter Bunny,” AV team, and musicians worked with staff to make this special event happen. On that Saturday evening, sixty-eight cars filled the front parking lot while thirty-seven others occupied the side one. In all, some two hundred sixty people came and worshiped.
At the end, as cars drove by one by one, volunteers and staff waved a tearful good-bye. It was obvious that everyone had been moved by the opportunity to gather even if they had to remain in their cars. Long after the last vehicle had departed, volunteers rolled up cables, took down equipment and signs, and no one would have ever known what had just happened right there in the Mauldin First Baptist Church parking lot. But, for those who came and those who watched on livestream, they knew. Neither Coronavirus nor nasty weather could stop Easter. These challenges only “drove” the folks at Mauldin First to be more creative in the way they celebrated!■