Dark, gray skies and persistent rain showers did not hinder some New Providence residents from filling the parking lots of churches yesterday, which was the first Sunday that churches were allowed to resume in-person services in two months.
A new order released on Friday outlines that worship services not exceeding an hour could resume on New Providence and several Family Islands as long as worshipers stay in their vehicles and adhere to social distancing protocols put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, that wasn’t the case for some churches on New Providence.
Believers Embassy International (BEI), which is located on Carmichael Road, erected a tent and a stage in its parking lot.
Under that tent, a drummer banged on the crash cymbal and snare drum with the guitarist effortlessly complementing the rhythm.
“You are faithful God,” a male singer belted out.
His choir chimed in, “You are a big, big God.”
At that moment, about a dozen congregants hopped out of their cars and danced in the rain, ignoring the requirement to remain in their vehicles during the service.
Some danced their way up and down the parking lot.
Meanwhile, others honked their support from their vehicles.
Ashley Larimore, an attendee of BEI for two years, was worshipping from her car when she spoke with The Nassau Guardian.
However, she admitted, “After being here and actually experiencing the worship experience, I had no choice but to come out of my car.”
With a laugh, Larimore added, “Sorry, prime minister.”
Asked what the service meant to her, she replied, “It means so much because it helps me to realize that persons still have hope and they still have a belief in their religious views and so forth, and that they’re still willing to brave whatever elements to be a part of that worship experience.”
Keith Newry, an attendee of BEI for a year, was “real happy” about yesterday’s service.
“Everybody misses normal and for us on a Sunday morning, this is normal,” he said.
“So, this is just a taste of what’s to come as the phases move. We’re excited about being here today and we’re excited about opening up too.”
Dr. Stephen Munroe, senior pastor of BEI, said his church was in “pre-preparation from before the lockdown”.
“When the government had made an announcement, we pretty much was prepared to just come forth whether they had done the outdoor, whether they had told us to go back into the church,” Munroe told The Guardian.
“We already have our hand sanitizers. We already have the temperature gun. I mean we’re equipped and ready to go. Whatever it takes for us to come back.”
He said there were no challenges as a result of the weather.
“As you can see, the people showed up,” Munroe said.
“We’re set up. The weather, I mean God gave the weather. We’re here to praise God in the weather, out the weather. We’re here to praise God. It isn’t a storm so we’re here to praise him.”
Not far away, near the Coral Harbour roundabout, Family Life Kingdom Center was also holding a service.
Ushers, who were holding umbrellas, directed drivers to keep their vehicles at least three feet apart as they trickled into the parking lot.
The actual service took place inside the building.
However, speakers were placed outside to ensure that congregants could hear the music and the sermon.
Ryan Bethell, the church’s pastor, said he was “grateful to the prime minister for giving us this opportunity”.
“We haven’t seen our members in some nine weeks; so at least we’ll get to see them from behind a car glass, so that’s better than nothing,” Bethell said.
He noted that the church leaders had no issue preparing for yesterday’s service because they held a similar one several weeks ago.
“When the prime minister made his announcement nine weeks ago, the Lord spoke to me and told me, ‘The church is not shutdown; do a drive-thru,” he said.
“All we had to do was get a speaker on the outside and, of course, we had our deacons putting the cars three feet apart. With the offering and stuff, we have that all set up…. We’re still on the inside, but we’re now extended to the outside.”
Not all churches were able to overcome the inclement weather to continue with their drive-up services.
Miracle Life Outreach Ministries, which is located on Joe Farrington Road, had plans to hold a service yesterday.
However, it postponed as a result of the rain.
“We actually were preparing for 7:30 a.m. [to] eight o’clock to prepare for the congregation to come as they drive up,” Quinton Higgs, a minister at the church, told The Guardian.
“We would’ve had everything on the outside. We had everything for the pastor but, unfortunately, when the weather came down we had to send everything through social media – Facebook, WhatsApp – that it had been postponed until the weather actually permits us to have service.”
The church hopes to resume service next Sunday.
Under the prime minister’s order, churches must provide adequate parking to accommodate the services.
Four individuals from the same immediate household are permitted to be in a vehicle.
Where an immediate household has more than four people, the church leader is to issue a clear sign to be displayed visibly on the dashboard of the vehicle indicating that the church is familiar with the family and the immediate members exceed four people.
Offering baskets are not allowed to be passed from vehicle to vehicle. There would have to be an offering station.
Individuals over 65 or with comorbidities have been asked to avoid drive-up services.
Services are permitted to be held between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the weekend lockdowns.
Not all churches took advantage of the relaxed restrictions though. Both the Catholic and Anglican bishops told their members that they will, for now, continue online services as they assess the new protocols.
And Mount Tabor Church Bishop Neil Ellis urged his members to remain at home.
‘We will not be doing the parking lot gig,” he said in a social media video.