Drive in church maintains distance, but keeps the faith

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CHEPACHET – Coronavirus fears won’t keep Pastor David Schlaupitz from his congregation, but he understands the need for distance to help curb the spread of the pandemic.

The religious leader at Glad Tidings Community Church, Schlaupitz has implemented a unique solution, which is now catching on at churches across the country.

The church is now holding drive in services every Sunday, where participants stay inside their cars, keeping the windows rolled up.

And taking a cue from drive-in movie theaters, church organizers are broadcasting their message on 89.9 FM radio, where parishioners tune in.

The pastor said the idea was generated during a series of Zoom meetings held with his team of administrators.

“We were just consistently trying to brainstorm together how we could stay in contact with people,” Schlaupitz told NRI NOW. “We’re a really tight-nit community. This was a way we could come together and still maintain the mandates that are in place.”

The first such service, held Sunday, March 29, brought out some 250 car-bound attendees – slightly more than the church’s typical weekly turn out. The faithful showed their support by blinking headlights to communicate, and shouts of “Amen!” could be heard from the rows of cars.

The pastor spoke with local police and neighbors in advance, to make sure the mass was allowed in a time when state leaders have ordered residents to keep groups down to five or less people.

“I was as emotional driving into this service as I was the very first time I came to the pulpit in this church,” Schlaupitz said at that first gathering.

The church posts worship lyrics and kids’ lessons on their website, www.gtcc.church, where attendees can download and print them in advance of the service.

Schlaupitz said the services provide an essential way for his congregation to gather during a time of increased stress and uncertainty. He notes that parishioners depend on their connection to the church, and the chance to experience God and serve the community together.

“All of a sudden, with the snap of a finger, that’s taken away,” Schlaupitz said. “People are hardwired for community. There’s a deep desire to be connected to one another.”

He said that just the act of getting dressed for church and getting out of the house helped him and others to feel just a little more normal.

“I think it clicked mentally and emotionally for people just to be getting ready for church,” he said. “Just being out did so much for my mental health. It was really nice.”

And setting up crystal-clear audio via a FM station, he says, was surprisingly simple.

“Everything’s run through the board, just like a normal Sunday, but it also goes through a transmitter,” Schlaupitz said.

As news gets out of the unique idea, other religious organizations are grabbing up those open frequencies. And locally, the pastor expects to see a rise in attendance.

“We’re setting new standards to prepare for an influx,” he said of his upcoming mass.

Safety, he notes, will remain a focus.

“We don’t hand anything out. I want it to be completely safe for everybody to come and enjoy church,” the pastor said.

The services not only keep the parish connected during a time of socail isolation, the idea also keeps the church itself, which serves residents from Chepachet, Burrillville and beyond, in business during a time of financial stress for the community. From Christmas toy drives, to outreach efforts that provide clothing and food to those in need, the Glad Tidings parish, Schlaupitz notes, always works toward helping others.

Currently, that outreach has focused on “Grace’s Pantry,” where donations of food and other essentials can be safely left at an outdoor box to be redistributed. The pastor says that in recent weeks, items have been pouring in. Donated items have even included protective gear such as masks and gloves, which the congregation passed on to someone in the medical community within an hour.

“It’s actually pretty incredible. Our people have just stepped up,” Schlaupitz said. “It’s amazing to me that at a time when so many people are hoarding and trying to stockpile that they’re being so generous.”

All items are left at a box outside the church at 111 Victory Highway, and disinfected before they’re given out.

“There’s no real face-to-face contact,” Schlaupitz said.

The church has also been putting together food baskets for families in need. Anyone in need of food is invited to contact Glad Tidings by emailing gracespantry@gmail,com.

Those who would like to make a monetary donation can text “GIVE” to 401-324-1152 or visit the church’s website at GTCC.church.

It’s a new way forward for the Pentecostal congregation, a member of the Assemblies of God. Founded in 1990, the church, just outside the Burrillville town border in Chepachet, serves a population that is primarily split between the neighboring communities.

At the Palm Sunday services scheduled for this weekend, church-goers are advised to bring their own communion. Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and the pastor points out they provide a connection that’s hard to obtain during current circumstances.

“Even being in our cars created a community dynamic that you can’t get looking through a screen,” Schlaupitz said. “Seeing their actual faces and their joy, I cried.”

“We want everyone to come and be part of this,” he added. “It’s incredible. And right now, you can only get it in that kind of way.”

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