Photo by Joe Boyle
The Rev. Jay Trygstad, pastor of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worth, holds an outdoor service wearing a mask and gloves on Sunday morning. The pastor has been conducting outdoor parking lot services since Easter Sunday during the pandemic. Parishioners remain in their vehicles during the services.
By Joe Boyle
The Rev. Jay Trygstad, the longtime pastor at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worth, felt a different approach was necessary to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
While the church doors remain closed through at least May under Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home orders due to the spread of the virus, Trygstad, who has served as pastor for 24 years at St. Mark Church, 11076 S. 76th Ave., thought there had to be another way to reach out to parishioners for Sunday services.
Since the church doors are closed, Trygstad invited them to arrive in their vehicles and park in the lot. The pastor has conducted services to a parking lot full of parishioners in their vehicles who listened to him speak by turning on the radio to 106.9 FM.
A traditional service is held at 8 a.m., followed by a contemporary gathering at 10 a.m. Since Easter Sunday, two services have been held each week. Trygstad said the Sunday outdoor services have been well received, However, he gave the idea considerable thought before going forward.
"We didn't know how this would really work," Trygstad said. "We didn't want to put people at risk. That's why we want everyone to stay in their cars and practice social distancing. We knew some services took place at other churches in the beginning and the virus spread. We wanted to follow the mandate to keep everyone safe. No one gets out of the car and we keep that six-foot distance."
Trygstad began thinking of the idea of a parking lot service as the virus spread through the U.S. He wanted to see if he could still conduct services safely. He contacted Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett for feedback. Both mayors had no objections.
"The church is not the building," Trygstad said. "The church is the people. In this case, the church is the parking lot."
The pastor admits that adjustments have had to be made since the first outdoor services on April 12. Technical hitches have occurred with the audio. However, Trygstad said he has adjusted his speaking style so that the parishioners in their vehicles can hear him on the radio.
"It's a work in progress," Trygstad said. "The audio is only good for 300 feet. But by and large, everything has gone well. I've found that when I speak slower, people can understand me better."
This past Sunday, a large crowd attended the 10 a.m. contemporary service, which was benefited by sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures.
"Good morning everyone," Trygstad greeted the congregation, who responded by beeping their car horns. "God is good."
The pastor said the tempo of the services improve each week and the number of participants have been steady. Sunday's service was one of the largest crowds since Easter.
"They pretty much seem to be favorable," Trygstad said of the response by parishioners. "Some people have had some concerns. That's understandable. We wanted this to be safe for everyone. We didn't want to do anything reckless."
The service was like most gatherings at St. Mark, except that it was outdoors. The parishioners in their vehicles are reminded of the pandemic as Trygstad greets them at the south entrance of the church wearing a mask and gloves. Parishioners sat in their vehicles and most of them also wore masks.
Trygstad also suggests that parishioners bring their own bread for communion to keep the social distancing mandate. The pastor also said that the outdoor parking lot services will continue as long as the pandemic exists.
"We will make decisions based on what is going on," Trygstad said. "But based on what we know, this will be going on for awhile."
Until that day comes, Trygstad said he will continue the parking lot services. He believes this is a good way to stay in touch with the St. Mark congregation.
"It's a good parish," Trygstad said. "We have a lot of good people here."