The sign outside the south Minneapolis church announced its unusual public service: “Drive-through Prayer. Wednesdays during Lent 7-9 a.m.”
It was enough to lure some passing drivers into the circular driveway of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, where a church member greeted them at their car windows.
“I have a lot to pray for,” said Julie Burrows, after receiving her prayer-to-go Wednesday. “My husband is traveling in Brazil. We have a big new project at work …”
As much as she liked the drive-through devotion, Burrows wondered about it on a Minnesota morning with temperatures near zero. To do it at 7 in the morning, when it’s this cold, they’re crazy!”
The “crazy” folks are leaders of the Lutheran church just north of the 50th and France intersection. Exploring ways to commemorate Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, they heard of an Atlanta church offering mobile prayers and decided to launch it last week.
Good Shepherd is part of a small but growing number of churches giving drive-through devotions a whirl. Churches of varying denominations have offered the mobile ministry from California to Florida to Texas.
Pastor Karl Jacobson said the drive-throughs are a reflection of today’s fast-moving lifestyles, as well as desire for convenience. People don’t have to stop, enter a building, or even plan ahead for the prayer, he said.
“This is an attempt to reach folks in our fast-paced culture,” said Jacobson. “It can be spontaneous.”
Day two of the Minneapolis experiment was Wednesday, a bitter cold morning that had the three prayer leaders bundled head to toe as they took turns waiting for the faithful to pull into the church driveway. Turnout was slow early on, but by 8 o’clock, prayer-takers sporadically pulled in, rolled down their windows, and saw a friendly face offering to lead a prayer.
Mary Ireland, a church member, was driving to her volunteer work when she took advantage of the offer.
“I have a brother who is seriously ill, and I don’t miss a chance to pray with others for him,” Ireland said.
Others who stopped by asked for divine assistance on everything from coping with family deaths to trouble with children.
“One woman drove through who had a dear friend who died, so we prayed for him,” said Karen Walhof, the church outreach director. “One woman had a son with ‘issues.’ Another wanted to pray about the situation in Palestine.”
Given the morning’s arctic blast, there was no dawdling at the rolled-down car windows. Said Walhof: “One woman told me, “Let’s pray quickly!”
While most folks pulling into the driveway offered a few spontaneous thoughts for prayers, some were quite organized.
“Last week we had a woman with a list of four things she wanted to pray for on a little sheet of paper,” said Walhof.
That list included prayers for a relative’s health, a neighbor’s mental health, for certain schoolchildren and world peace.
About a dozen people stopped Wednesday, but there was a whole lot more praying going on.
“When the bus stopped at that corner, I said a prayer for everyone in it,” said Dorothy Ellerbroek, the parish nurse who was on the prayer rotation.
“When the U.S. mail truck went by, I prayed for the carriers who have to be out in this weather. The same with the Federal Express people.
“Whether requested or not, they’re getting a prayer!” she laughed.
The drive-through prayers are part of the church’s broader focus on prayer during this Lenten season, said Jacobson. The church built a prayer wall in the sanctuary, where folks can stuff notes about the causes they care for. The Wednesday night service this week was about Prayers for Repentance and Prayers of Anger.
Church leaders hope that more people will tap their drive-through service, but they are not measuring success by how many cars pull in. Said Jacobson: “If one person benefits from it, it’s a success.”
Walhof views this year as a test run. Already she is wondering if 7 a.m. is too early to start, as so many people are laser-focused on getting to work. She also wonders whether February and March are the best months to be asking Minnesotans to stop and roll down their windows.
“We will have to evaluate that after the season,” she said. “We know we don’t have this polished, but we need to take this first step to see where God takes us.”
Have they thought about adding coffee?
“We thought about it,” she said with a smile. “And doughnuts.”