Drive-in Church Welcomes People with Disabilities

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The Sunday paper we get had a special section this week called, “One Sunday: A Photo History.” Photographers for the paper scattered throughout the region on August 7 to document events and activities happening that day. My favorite picture features a Catholic sister, in full habit, on the roof of a barn with a goat.

The one that interests me most as an advocate for people with disabilities shows a pastor at his pulpit preaching to a gathering of people in their cars parked on a green lawn. The caption reads: “Rev. Phil Mitchell preached to nearly 30 vehicles of people during the evening worship service of Immanuel Reformed Church in Fennville [Michigan]. . . . The outdoor service has been held for more than 40 years and has a strong following with local, vacationing and handicapped worshippers, who enjoy coming to a service where they don’t have to worry about getting out of their cars.”

Some people might see the picture and assume the inhabitants of those cars are too lazy or antisocial to get out of their cars to worship the Lord. But this unusual setting for worship may be the only way that some are able to attend worship on a regular basis. For people who fear crowds, for people for whom getting in and out of the car is a special challenge, for people whose child (or children) are not tolerated in a traditional worship service due to behaviors that are beyond the parent’s control, and for others as well, Immanuel Reformed Church provides inclusion in a way that may not be possible in a traditional church setting. I praise God for the creative effort that many churches do to welcome people who live with disabilities. This “drive-in church” is just one of many.

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I have been the part-time pastor of the Woodland Drive-In Church in Grand Rapids (an outreach ministry of Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids) for over 25 years, and that church has been in existence for 41 years. In contrast to the Fennville ministry (which I believe is primarily a spring-summer-fall worship center), ours has been year-round. Our average attendance is between 50 and 60 vehicles each Sunday. Mark Stephenson is correct that it attracts people who do not fit into the traditional church: people with special needs, people with agoraphobia or allergies to perfumes, handicapped (Hope Network) people, and the like. I am ordained in the CRC, and it has been a blessing to be a part of that ministry. They are a special group of people who need God's word like the rest of us. Our website is www.driveinchurch.org.

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Verlyn, thanks for your faithful service in this unusual and important ministry. Blessings! Mark