Wildwood Church of God leaders weren’t ready to rush their congregation back into its building, but they couldn’t bear much more time away from the church’s attendees.
“We truly missed seeing each other,” said Steve Harris, Wildwood’s pastor of 17 years. “We knew we couldn’t do hugs, handshakes and all that, but if we could just see each other eyeball to eyeball, and share a smile and a wave from a distance, we wanted that. The question was, where could we do that?”
The answer was right in front of them — well, behind them.
Beyond the church building and surrounding parking lot off 29th Street lies a spacious park used by schools for cross country meets and the church for various events.
A wide-open field in Wildwood Park had Harris and others wide-eyed. Wildwood, like plenty of other churches, had been streaming sermons, worship sets and Sunday School lessons online throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-May, it was time for something different, he said.
“Our parking lot up top is just not large enough (for a drive-in service),” Harris said. “Out of necessity, we made the choice.”
The location selection was ultimately ideal.
“This is the perfect choice because it’s so beautiful down here,” said Harris as he scanned the landscape from atop the elevated blacktop road. As of this weekend, Wildwood had to cancel only one service because of inclement weather.
Harris said he continues to record a sermon and the worship team continues to record a set for online viewing — it’s separate from what one sees on Sunday.
“It’s the same topic, but it never comes out quite the same,” Harris said.
On a Sunday morning prior to the 11 a.m. start, a Wildwood welcome team member will guide your vehicle along the downhill, windy road and into the field. Harris has loved seeing a new form of fellowship.
“God’s blessed us with this beautiful park,” Harris said. “We began to ask, why didn’t we do this sooner? God’s given us church right here in His creation.”
The pandemic has placed pastors in a precarious position. Some area preachers have elected to not return to their respective buildings just yet. Some decided to bring churchgoers back in late May while adhering to the 33% capacity guideline implemented by Gov. Andy Beshear.
Unity Baptist Church is featuring two services on Sunday morning — 9:30 and 11.
“We’ve shortened the entire service down some,” said Unity pastor Jeremy Couture. “In between services, we utilize our volunteers to wipe down and sanitize the entire sanctuary.”
Every other pew is roped off in order to create proper social distancing.
“We’ve had to be very careful with how we lay out the sanctuary,” Couture said.
Most churches back in buildings are encouraging people to wear masks. Unity is as well.
“We’ve provided masks for them, too,” Couture said, emphasizing he wants everyone to feel “comfortable and confident.”
Unity has used Zoom and Skype to conduct Bible studies. It did not have an online-streamed service before the pandemic, but Couture said the internet services have gone well.
“We’ve been ‘open’ the entire time,” Couture said. “You would think some of the senior adults less familiar with technology would struggle with it, but our church really embraced it.”
Visit unitybaptistchurchashland.com for more information about Unity. Wildwood’s website is wildwood.church. Both have Facebook pages. Wildwood has an app, Harris said, for members to share prayer requests.
Harris said he doesn’t know yet when Wildwood will return to normal services, but the last few weeks have exceeded expectations.
Wildwood will continue its outdoor services for now, and a drive-in movie is planned for families on July 17.
Harris and Couture both have eyes on the big picture when it comes to what each church offers.
“We don’t feel like we’re in competition with other churches in town,” Harris said. “We’re all on the same team.”
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