As the cars rolled into the parking lot of the Christ Lutheran Church in Scituate, 73-year-old parishioner Diane Waterfield shuffled a handful of prayer cards and reviewed her game plan. The prayers she would offer to passing motorists as part of the church’s new “drive-through” ministry needed to be efficient, yet personal.
“We get their names right away and ask, ‘What type of a prayer do you need today?’ ” she said. “It’s not like in church, when we can pray for our children, our families, our kids, the dog, the cat, and you can go on and on if you want to. Out here, you’re working quick.”
The church’s novel prayer service debuted Saturday, part of a plan by pastor Dan Eddy to increase his flock by making personal connections with passing residents — and also to help people to fit prayer into their busy schedules. Waterfield was one of about 15 parishioners who volunteered to pray with passing drivers and their passengers. The group will continue the service on a trial basis through at least next Saturday.
Just after 10 a.m., a car tentatively pulled into the lot, one of about 18 that stopped Saturday. Waterfield and fellow parishioner Susan Heller, 60, approached and spoke quietly with the driver, each of them grabbing one of her hands. After a moment, they turned, chuckling and smiling as the car drove off.
“That lady said, ‘I need everything, just everything,’ ” Waterfield said, laughing. “Sue started first, and when she got to a point, then I took over, and we gave her the double whammy.”
The concerns of drivers varied widely: The first car to stop by Saturday carried a family traveling to Cape Cod, who asked for safety on their drive south; another man prayed for the Patriots to triumph over the Saints on Sunday, and graciously allowed Eddy to put in a good word for his beloved Packers; others prayed for ill family members, relief from financial distress, and familial harmony.
Eddy said he advised Waterfield and other volunteers to listen carefully to each person’s needs, regardless of their religious background.
“We want to let the community know we’re here for them,” Eddy said. “This isn’t a country club that’s members only. . . . People are looking for authenticity, so we listen to their concerns and we pray with them.”
While the format poses some logistical challenges, it also has advantages over more traditional venues for prayer, volunteers said.
“At Sunday service, it’s all very formal,” said parishioner Lambert Brandes. “This is really relatively free and informal, so people can come in out of nowhere, even if they didn’t expect to. . . . I think they feel like it’s very personal.”
It also gives would-be parishioners a chance to test the waters without coming to a busy Sunday service, and shy parishioners a chance to ask for help discreetly, Brandes said.
“There are people who wouldn’t volunteer or ask for attention in a service with a crowd around them, but here it’s no problem,” he said.
Eddy got the idea from a church in Florida that implemented a similar program earlier this year, and pitched it to his congregation in a recent sermon.
“I think initially it garnered a lot of skepticism and doubt,” said parishoner Dick Johnson of Scituate, 63. “But it turns out to be a very effective way to reach out to the community, show people we care, that we have compassion, and that there’s a home for them in the church.”
Johnson admitted he still thinks the idea is “unusual,” but stopped by anyway for a quick prayer on behalf of his mother-in-law, who is trying to sell a business she owns.
“From my upbringing, prayer is usually something you do at church service or in private,” he said. “But in today’s age, you’ve got to wear many hats for many different people, and if this format fits into their schedule, that’s great.”
During the two-hour drive-through service, Eddy and his volunteers moved from car to car, sometimes sharing a quick laugh with a friend, other times emerging tearfully from a long conversation with a stranger. About half of those who stopped were parishioners of the church, Eddy said, while the rest were curious members of other churches or just passing travelers. He expects that more people will attend next week.
“A lot of times people are cautious about approaching us, and we’re OK with that,” he said. “Maybe they just drove by today to see if we’re for real, and they’ll come back next week. We’ll be here.”