Despite the Virus, Churches Get Innovative in Celebrating Palm Sunday
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
First UMC Brenham and Wesley UMC in Beaumont aren’t letting coronavirus stand in the way of celebrating Palm Sunday. Both of these congregations in the Texas Annual Conference have discovered innovative ways that their members can join together – celebrating from the safety of their vehicles – to worship and have fellowship.
Parading Through Brenham on Palm Sunday
Jennifer Patrick, Director of Youth at First UMC Brenham, had just the idea when Pastor Bobbie Maltas asked for new and creative ways to celebrate Palm Sunday safely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Patrick’s inspiration came from an unlikely place – a birthday party for a friend. Because of the quarantine, an actual celebration wasn’t feasible. Instead, Patrick joined with a group to decorate their cars and parade in front of the birthday girl’s home.
The caravan weaved through the neighborhood, drivers honking their horns and then parking out front to sing happy birthday. “She loved it,” Patrick said.
Patrick proposed that FUMC Brenham try something similar for Palm Sunday. “We needed something the church could do all together,” she said.
Patrick, who also leads contemporary services, noticed that members were looking for different avenues to come together during the pandemic – even if they remained socially distanced in public spaces.
Pastor Maltas had observed that same desire in her congregation and was looking for creative ways to keep members engaged. She decided to add the Palm Sunday Parade of Vehicles to the list.
FUMC Brenham confirmed its order of palms with a local florist. “We’ll set palms on the hoods of the cars,” Maltas said. “We’ll go through downtown, led by the church van. Then we’ll go to Kruse Village.”
A lot of seniors who are members of the church reside in this retirement community, she explained. Already, the congregation goes to the center each winter to sing Christmas carols. During this event, the seniors can join the festivities by simply stepping out on their front porches or waving through a window.
Maltas announced the Palm Sunday parade on Facebook Live and sent out a church-wide email, asking members to congregate in the church parking lot on Palm Sunday, just before its traditional worship airs on the local radio station.
During the parade, drivers will crank up the broadcast service, or their favorite Christian music, and wave to the community as they sing along and celebrate.
Patrick looks forward to gathering together for the parade. “I’m hoping it’s a good turnout,” she said. “We’re all trying to think outside the box these days.”
She said that, before the pandemic, individuals had expressed to her some complacency toward their faith. “I heard the word slump or funk on a regular basis,” she said.
Now, Patrick feels that congregants are re-energized, hungry for connection and wanting to get involved in church life. “In this storm, we’re starting to see a rebirth,” she said. “It’s really awesome to see the Holy Spirit moving in all of this.”
Bumpers become pews in Beaumont
At Wesley UMC in Beaumont, Senior Pastor Rick Ivey and Associate Pastor Matt Cecil watched as county recommendations for social gatherings dropped from 50 to 10 – and then to shelter in place.
The church quickly took its services online – and moved Bible study, Sunday school and support group’s to Zoom.
“We had done online before but not on this scope,” Cecil said.
Still, Wesley UMC wanted to do more for its congregants, especially in the midst of Holy Week. “We still have a mission to complete in our community,” Ivey said. “Our people really wanted the ability to have worship.”
He noticed that other churches were turning their parking lots into drive-in services, and he decided to give the idea a test drive for Palm Sunday.
The event will start at 10 a.m. “We’ll have tables set up with masked and gloved volunteers to give out palms and individually wrapped communion,” Cecil said.
The pastors will then take turns taking the stage in front of the parking lot – and will use F.M. transmitters so that drivers can tune-in. Worship music will be part of the broadcast.
“They can stay safely in their cars, with the windows up,” Ivey said. “After the service, we have a parade route mapped out, and we’re encouraging them to decorate their cars if they’d like to participate.”
Finding a way to connect and celebrate Palm Sunday is essential, Cecil explained. “This is the heart of who we are as Christians, being together,” he said. “We’re all crying out for some kind of connection. This is not ideal, but it’s what we can offer. We want to meet needs in a safe way.”
The Holy Spirit has moved them to continue to serve, he added.
The story of Holy Week offers inspiration to the congregation, as they face uncertainty, Ivey explained.
“We see Jesus go from lonely in the garden to being in the place of new life,” he said. “Just remember, we’re not alone. We’re God’s people. We’re still the church, and we still have great hope in what God’s doing.”
Wesley UMC also held a parade in the past for its day school. Teachers made posters, and parents drove by with their kids waving out the windows.
“It meant so much to not only the teachers, but also the kids, who had a blast,” Ivey said. “A couple of parents drove through multiple times. The kids miss their teachers so much.”
Meredith Love, Wesley Day School Director, explained that the location serves several different communities and school districts. She wanted to create an opportunity for students to come to school to see their teachers.
Love drew a map so teachers could set up their cars, distanced apart. They opened their hatchbacks and set up with signs. Parents entered from one end of the parking lot, and children could wave an everyone they passed,
“Our little parade was really fun,” Love said. “We did it just in time. Our parents and kids loved it.”
Hosting a parade for the day school is something that she encourages others to try.
Wesley UMC has also helped other churches in the county make the transition to online services. Pastor Ivey hopes that the drive-in service for Palm Sunday will also inspire them to find creative ways to continue their work.
“We want to help other churches think about their missions and what they can do,” he said.
For more information about FUMC Brenham, visit fumcbrenham.org. To learn about Wesley UMC, visit wesleyumc.com.