Grayville First Baptist pastor Dave Smith on Sunday

Grayville First Baptist pastor Dave Smith conducted Sunday service on the church’s premises as a "drive-in." Congregants dialed in on the radio to listen to the worship service, thanks to a transmitter.

The sound of car horns honking and windshield wipers swiping, along with a mixture of praise music, filled the air of the northern outskirts of Grayville Sunday morning.

In light of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay at home order issued on Saturday, March 21, which effectively bans all non-essential travel and calls for businesses considered non-essential to close down as the state of Illinois attempts to halt the spread of Novel Coronavirus, several businesses and organizations have ceased operations until at least April 7, when the order is set to end. Among those organizations, virtually all churches in the Edwards County and Grayville area have elected to stop hosting services until at least the end of the month, when they will reevaluate the situation.

“Well, first and foremost was the safety and health of our congregational family,” said Brad Henson, Head of the Edwards County Ministerial Alliance, regarding the churches respective decisions to cease in-person services. “That was at the top of our thinking. Second were the mandates and recommendations of The President, CDC and our Governor. And then our bishop, Bishop Frank Beard, sent out a notice to all of us to follow those guidelines.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but one that had to be made in light of the current situation.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean congregation members are left without a means to worship, however.

Some local churches have found alternative methods through which they are able to spread the Word of God without posing a public health risk to congregants. Among the most creative ideas was one enacted by Grayville First Baptist pastor Dave Smith.

The church conducted its Sunday service on the church’s premises, with a full congregation in attendance. However, rather than step inside the building, those church-goers merely adjusted the dial of their radio and were able to listen to Smith, as well as the church’s praise band, thanks to the aid of a transmitter.

The pastor admitted thinking it was a joke when one of his congregants suggested the use of a transmitter to conduct services.

“I asked if it could transmit to every car in the parking lot,” recalled Smith. “He said, ‘Brother, it could reach all of Grayville if we (set it right).”

Smith stated that transmitting the service to cars in the church parking lot, while different from to what congregants are accustomed, still provides a sense of familiarity during an extraordinary situation.

“This way we can still see each other, but not have to worry about getting each other sick,” he stated. “It’s almost like a drive-in movie.”

Further emphasizing that comparison, Smith stressed that dressing up like most people tend to do when heading to service is really not necessary, especially now that congregation members won’t even be leaving their cars.

“You don’t have to come wearing your Sunday best,” he said.

Those in attendance, regardless of how they were dressed, were able to use their vehicles as part of their worshipping, honking their horns in response to questions asked by Smith and flipping on their wipers as a replacement for swaying their arms through the air.

Henson, meanwhile, explained that at least a couple of church in Edwards County are turning to social media in order to conduct services while the stay at home order remains in place.

“We are doing live Facebook for a devotional time, as well as our service for Albion First United Methodist Church,” noted Henson. “And Bethel United Methodist Church in Ellery will be Facebook Live on Sunday morning at 9 a.m.”

And while churches are suspending some outreach programs in light of the actions taken by the state government to combat COVID-19, those volunteers who take part in said programs are still finding other ways to help the community.

“The main program we had was the weekend backpack program for students at the school,” he explained. “This has been suspended since the students are out of school.

“We will be participating, along with other churches in the Edwards County Ministerial Alliance, at the three food sites in town that have been established for students.”

The Albion First United Methodist pastor also called on people to unify during this medical emergency.

“I would just encourage everyone take the precautions seriously, use social distancing and stay at home,” said Henson. “This is serious, and we need to heed the advice of our leaders and medical professionals.

“It is not a time to mess with politics or the blame game. It is time for serious action.”

And that responsibility extends beyond the government in Henson’s eyes as well.

“This is a difficult time,” he said. “We are all having to rethink our lifestyle and adjust to things in a new way.

“But we can make it through this if each person will do their share to follow the guidelines to not spread disease.”