Lyman Caldwell has preached all over North Georgia for years. However, there’s one place he never expected to preach.
“I never even dreamed that I would be on the internet,” he said.
Yet for now, that’s the only place Caldwell can preach, as precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have taken worship services outside the church.
With statewide regulations prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, churches had to get creative just to continue having services. For Concord Baptist Church, where Caldwell pastors, that meant streaming its service on Facebook Live for the first time ever.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to stand up in front of that telephone with nobody in the house,” Caldwell said. “It’s a funny feeling.”
Staying on camera posed another challenge for Caldwell, who is notorious for moving as he preaches.
“It’s hard to stand there,” he said. “They tell me, ‘now you can’t go no further than the preacher stand, you have to stay right in there,’ it’s different, it really is.”
Taking the difficulties in stride, Caldwell preached on. Now, two weeks in, his sermons have amassed nearly 4,000 views.
“I’m amazed at how many people are listening to the preachers that are on the internet,” he said. “If you just go on there and look at it, it’s unbelievable.”
Caldwell doesn’t have a Facebook account of his own, but he’s grown thankful for the reaching power of the platform.
“I think this is a great comfort and strength for them as they sit at home and can’t get out and they’re able to pull so many different preachers up and listen to them,” he said. “God has blessed us with this technology just to do this and I think for the folk, it’s a blessing for them. Some of the people that maybe weren't even able to come to church because of other sickness are able to hear this, I think it’s a great blessing for the people.”
And while he’d be much more comfortable holding services the traditional way, Caldwell still feels that good can come out of the less-than-ideal situation.
“I wish we were in the church houses, I really do, but I think that, right now, with this going on that we’re touching more people than we thought we would ever touch,” he said. “I really believe that the gospel is going out and it’s amazing how it’s going out. I tell you, I’m amazed at it.”
For Caldwell, that’s all that matters.
“I just hope and pray that it’s going out to people that maybe have never accepted Christ and they’ll come to find him by hearing somebody’s message,” he said.
Caldwell says he never dreamed he’d see the day when the churches would all be empty.
“It’s amazing to know that all of our churches are empty now and we have to keep them empty until this virus goes away,” he said.
Some other churches in the area have found a way to congregate “together” while remaining separate and socially distanced, through “drive-in” services.
“The drive-in is good because it allows the modern technology of being able to have the service transmitted right into your vehicle through FM and everybody stays safe, they stay in their cars, they don’t get out, so in a way everybody’s able to worship together, but separated and safe,” Steve Schofield said. “We just thank God for modern technology that allows us to do that.”
Schofield, who serves as senior pastor at Dahlonega United Methodist Church, felt it necessary to do something special this Easter.
“We were hoping that the churches and everything would be open by Easter, because obviously Easter is the resurrection day and it’s the holiest day of the year for Christians,” he said. “We’re providing online worship so people can worship, but at some point there’s something special about gathering together, even if we’re in our own little seperate bubbles as it were.”
Hearing of other churches in the area successfully holding drive-in services, Schofield was all for it when approached with the idea.
“It’s obvious people were ready to come out and worship together,” he said. “The scripture says not to neglect assembling. I worked very closely with the sheriff, I talked with the sheriff and got permission on what’s allowed what’s not allowed, because I wanted to be super respectful of the authorities on this, but as long as we can follow the mandates from the governor and the sheriff and yet still gather safely to worship, to me it’s a win-win.”
Dahlonega United Methodist Church met together in person for the first time since March 8 on Sunday when the congregation gathered in their cars for a drive-in service at Lumpkin County High School for two services, one at 9:30 a.m. and one at 11 a.m. Schofield felt that was just what the people needed to provide some hope in this dark time.
“I think it was very good for people. I think it moved them more than they or I would realize, honestly,” he said. “And I believe God was there and the spirit was there and I believe when we get together for worship that God does move powerfully in that. That’s why He asks us to worship.”
Preaching a drive-in service did require quite the adjustment from Schofield, though.
“It was strange preaching to cars and strange getting horn blows as feedback,” he said. “There were several times I had to say ‘Can yall still hear me?’ because I’m literally getting no visual feedback.”
Trading “amen’s” for the honking of car horns wasn’t the only adjustment, as Schofield also traded his pulpit for a scissor lift, preaching to the lot of socially distanced cars from high above.
“You couldn’t tell but that thing moves, it shimmies and shakes, so I’m up there preaching and it’s creaking and moving around, it’s not as stable as it looks,” he said.
The church’s staff made several adjustments to ensure the meeting was safe and upheld all of the required regulations. From collecting an offering with long-handled butterfly nets to making sure every car was spaced out from each other and most importantly, making sure no one got out of their car, the staff played a large role in making the service a possibility.
“We had pretty tight rules,” Schofield said. “We just really tried to model proper social distancing.”
Overall, Schofield and his staff feel the services were a successful effort.
“I think everybody that worked on it was so positive about it and we’ve gotten such good feedback, we’re probably going to just continue it until they allow us to open the churches up,” he said.
Schofield remains optimistic that the churches will reopen soon, once COVID-19 is defeated. Until then, he feels thankful for a community that values worship.
“I just feel very blessed that we’re in a community that respects the need of Christians to worship on Easter and to worship on Sundays,” he said.
Editor's Note: At this point Dahlonega United Methodist Church has no drive-in services scheduled for the coming weeks. Services will be held online until further notice.