By Joanna Puddister King
PEARL – During the COVID-19 crisis, parishes have had to get creative to keep doing the things they did pre-COVID and St. Jude parish in Pearl is no exception.
Tucked in the city of Pearl Pine Park subdivision, St. Jude parish has found great success holding drive-in Mass on Saturdays and Sundays.
“The idea for a drive-in Mass was thrown around by staff as a joke in the early spring as we discussed plans to resume the celebration of public Mass,” said Rhonda Bowden, director of liturgy and pastoral care at St. Jude. But the parish quickly figured out that they would not be able to accommodate the number of parishioners they normally expected at Mass.
“With a drive-in Mass, we could increase the number of congregants by 50% over in-church Mass. We felt like we had to give it a try,” said Bowden.
As for a drive-in set up, that is where things got interesting. A few years ago, a parishioner donated an old mobile home to the parish to refurbish into a Mardi Gras float. “The exterior was painted Mardi Gras green. It rolled through downtown Brandon this past February on its inaugural parade route,” said Bowden.
After trying to conduct drive-in Mass from the porch of the rectory the parish decided to try the float with the Mardi Gras decorations removed, of course, and it worked so well that it became the platform for Mass.
“One parishioner with telecommunication experience setup mics, a mixer and a transmitter that didn’t require FCC licensing. Another parishioner added an awning over the midsection of the trailer for protection from the sun and rain,” said Bowden.
The help didn’t end there. Another parishioner built steps and a handrail and a portable sacristy was set up with altar linens, sacred vessels, the Roman Missal and other items normally used at Mass.
“Through the experience of the past six months we have added a few other items to our portable sacristy that you won’t find in a church sacristy such as wasp spray, extra masks, traffic control flags and safety vests,” Bowden elaborated.
Having Mass outdoors also brings comedic challenges, parishioner Cathy Haden shared. “One Sunday … as [Father Lincoln Dall] was giving his homily, his cat … wanted his attention.”
After meowing loudly up on the outdoor platform and being removed a few times, the cat jumped in Father Lincoln’s lap, Haden recalled fondly.
It definitely takes more time and effort to pull everything together for a drive-in Mass but parishioners, like Hayden have grown to appreciate the change.
At first, she was resistant to even try drive-in Mass, but through the encouragement of other friends who “loved it,” Haden gave it a try.
“The first couple of times I went, I admit I wasn’t crazy about it. But … I grew to love it as much as my friends did.”
Hayden said that the changes the church has had to make to allow parishioners to attend Mass more safely “have been stressful … but I have found our own attitude has a lot to do with what we get out of it.”
Over the summer, faith formation coordinator Stacy Wolf utilized the parish drive-in setup for Vacation Bible School.
“I took the ideas for an in-person Sunday School series about King David and adapted them to fit a drive-in format,” said Wolf.
“It brought so much joy to look out and see the families singing … in their cars. My husband, Michael took great pride in coming up with voices for the Bible stories. … My son, Owen, was a huge help with passing out our bags filled with snacks and at home activities for the week,” said Wolf. “It was a lot of work, but something I don’t think I will ever forget. Such special and sweet memories.”
Attending drive-in Mass at St. Jude is simple. Congregants stop at the check-in station at the entrance of the parking lot. There they receive the bulletin and any handouts. They are then directed to a parking spot by the ushers. Once settled, they tune their radio to FM 101.1 to hear and participate in Mass. At communion time, congregants are asked to put on a facemask and sanitize their hands. They are directed to get out of their cars if they can. The ministers of communion come to each car to distribute the Precious Body of Christ. After receiving communion, attendees get back in their vehicles. When Mass is over, the ushers direct traffic out of the parking lot quickly and smoothly.
Bowden says, “The drive-in Mass format has been well accepted here at St. Jude. While I certainly miss the liturgical beauty of Mass in the church, it is sacrifice that I’m willing to make so that others can attend Mass. We have a great number of our older parishioners and those with underlying illnesses that come to the drive-in Masses that could not come to Mass indoors. It is also a good option for families with small children and those people that have a difficult time wearing a face mask for long periods of time. We have had quite a few regular visitors from other parishes that state they do not feel comfortable inside with others for more than a few minutes. Certainly, being surrounded by God’s own creations of nature adds beauty to the drive-in Mass, too.”
As an added bonus to the seasons, the St. Jude staff also try to decorate the trailer for the liturgical and calendar seasons. For Pentecost, the green sidewalls were covered with red tablecloths. During the fall, they put bales of hay, pumpkins, gourds and potted fall flowers. Recently, the trailer got a coat of purple paint for Advent and an Advent wreath.
Right now, with the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, all of the weekend Masses at St. Jude are conducted in drive-in fashion. Bowden invites anyone that is interested in coming to a drive-in Mass at St. Jude to join them at 4 p.m. on Saturdays, 8 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. (Spanish) on Sundays. Just be sure to register by going to this link: https://signup.com/go/vyZbHGK.
(Photos by Rhonda Bowden, Tereza Ma contributed to this story.)