A Visit to a Drive-in Church

Jeffery Kingry
Glen Burnie, Maryland

I have my name on all kinds of mailing lists. I think it goes back to 1965 when I bought a magazine subscription: someone has been selling my name and address ever since. This might explain why I get some of the mail that I do. Today I got a magazine published by a religious supply, group entitled "Your Church." "Not my church," I thought as I paged through it! But amongst the full page advertisements for the "World Conference On The Holy Spirit" to be held in Jerusalem this year and the "It's not a church without a steeple" advertisement, I found an article written by a man named Ray B. Helser called, "The Drive-In Sanctuary."

Now, I have always known that denominationalism is spiritually bankrupt, but was unprepared for the following:

"It is a Sunday morning. You stop for a red light and note the motorist in the car next to you is wearing a terry cloth bathrobe, his wife is in hair curlers, and the two restless kids in the back seat are, at best, only half dressed. Their destination? Off to visit Grandma? Bound for a day at the beach? Maybe an emergency trip to the hospital? Wrong on all counts. They are going to church!

"As any motorist can attest, the automobile has spawned a score of enterprises which cater to his needs. Consider the drive-in movie, the drive-in fast-food restaurant, the drive-in bank, and the drive in grocery. And now we have the drive-in sanctuary where you are invited to worship in your car, come as you are. Surveys reveal that drive-in churches are proliferating madly, especially where the mild climate encourages year round services.

"First the motorist passes through an entrance that looks remarkably like an ornate Gas Station, sans pumps (Maybe to make the motorist feel at home?). A uniformed attendant (usher) directs you toward the parking space. The asphalt is terraced, each level some two feet above the next. The usher positions you between the white lines. You turn off your ignition, set the brake and take stock of your surroundings. It is a big beautiful place. You recall that the business of running this church is no small time operation. Its annual budget is almost $1 million dollars administered by its founding pastor (of some 20 years) assisted by some 6 others, along with 71 salaried staffers. Facilities and grounds total 22 acres. The congregation numbers 6400 and average Sunday turn-out is 7500.

"The car to your left is a Cadillac convertible-top rolled back. The well-coiffured blond driver smiles and asks, `Will they put a speaker in the car?' As a first time patron, you can only reply, 'I'm new here too.' The car up front contains the family (hair curlers and all) you passed at the stop light. These are old-timers you deduce, because the kids are already scampering toward a playground some hundred yards away. Behind you, the driver has stepped out in his stocking feet, stretches, and begins to empty sand from his golf shoes. Clubs from a golf bag peer out from the back seat. The blonde in the convertible decides she could get a better view and jockeys the Cadillac into a new space.

"Another family group, in a camper, takes her space. A couple of smudgy childish faces peer from the screened windows. Mama emerges and walks back to the windows, pokes her finger at the screen and declares, 'Now look here, you kids, just remember where you are. I don't want to hear a word out of either of you. If I hear anything I'll whale you both when we get home, understand?' She shakes her head at you imploring sympathy. The blonde and three of the men are now smoking. If you are a smoker, here is another advantage of the outdoor sanctuary. You sense the low sound of lulling organ music gentle and serene You search for the source and spot the amplifiers neatly camouflaged in a light standard.

"Well manicured shrubbery twelve feet high guards a forest of sparkling water fountains. The fountains throw a fine shimmering spray. Above them is a stone faced parapet. You sense that the pastor may eventually appear here in his towering pulpit and make a note to bring binoculars next time. An usher threads his way among the cars handing out a tastefully printed service program. Instructions and directions are volunteered, all of them quite practical. There are three sound options: the sanctuary amplifiers, your car radio, or an inboard speaker. Several of the worshipers are camera bugs. Leaving their cars, they are busy capturing the scenery on film-each other included. Clothes fashions are varied. About five in seven females are in mini-skirts; some in ankle length dresses. Half the men are in Bermuda shorts. Some kids are bare-foot.

"Suddenly the organ strains rise to a tremendous climax! The fountains slowly subside, geysers vanish behind the shrubbery, the camera hounds scurry for their cars, and the service begins. You watch a distant figure appear, robed, on the parapet. His face is turned for the moment, to you in the outdoor sanctuary. Later you will see his back as he addresses his other audience. The sermon? It's message was clear, concise, purposeful. One analogy was apt. The pastor asked for a show of hands on how many had locked their cars! A majority had done just that. The pastor gave an audible sigh. `Why,' he asked, 'Must our society demand this, especially in an area dedicated to God and his works?' That was a good springboard for a nice lesson on environment.

"The service began to wind down. Some signal, however subtle, is always conveyed to any congregation-in doors or out. Women retrieve handbags. Men pocket the spectacles. In a drive-in church the rear view mirror is adjusted. And the side mirror. The brake is released. The ignition is turned on and turned off again. Impatient smokers light up. The benediction is `Ready! Set! Go!' The golden rule is run over as everyone tries to be first out of the lot. One sees perhaps a bit more courtesy at a major league ball game. On the way home you reflect on the spiritual dosage just ingested, perhaps remembering a popular pharmaceutical advertising slogan-`Medicine does not have to taste bad to be good for you.' Since the Puritan introduction of the New World's church, our worship has been graced by spine-hardening pews, regimented spoonfuls of Christian guidance, stained glass monuments to the departed, and perhaps a bit of claustrophobia-all preceded by that Sunday morning competition for the bathroom, in order to adorn oneself in `Sunday-go-to-meeting-best.' Not so in the drive in church. Religion tastes good-even if it isn't old-time."

Whew! I give the liberal brethren among us about ten years to catch up with the world and erect their first brotherhood parking-lot church.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:10, pp. 12-13
January 17, 1974