Susie Fitch-Slater, pastor of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, and Ivey Belch, pastor of the Ocracoke Life Saving Church, hold a ‘drive-in’ service at the Ocracoke School circle. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

“I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in church for a long time,” said United Methodist Church Pastor Susie Fitch-Slater after the first “drive-in” church service on Ocracoke. “That was good.”

“We should call it ‘Honks and Hallelujahs,” Ivey Belch, pastor of the Life Saving Church, said, laughing, as he put away his guitar and PA system.

He referred to the honking the 13 vehicles that had parked in the Ocracoke School circle made a few times throughout this innovative church service held outside in response to the social distancing that’s been urged as the novel coronavirus marches its way through America.

Pastor Susie streamed the service on her phone for the benefit of whoever wanted to watch via a live Facebook feed. Several islanders had called into Belch’s phone to listen in.

The two pastors have been doing joint services since Hurricane Dorian inundated the island on Sept. 6 and the United Methodist Church, a short distance from the school, became a flooding casualty.

“The Lord said, ‘I do a new thing,’ and we’re doing a new thing today,” Fitch-Slater told the assembled. “It’s a privilege to gather and, yes. It’s a little different, but we gather.”

Roger Garrish, right, and Cindy Gaskins attend church in Roger’s car. Photo: C. Leinbach

“It’s neat that they did this,” said Joyce Spencer, whose car was parked in front of the school porch.

Roger Garrish sang along as Belch sang hymns and accompanied himself.

“It’s wonderful,” Garrish said.

Chester Lynn, attending in a golf cart, said it was fun.

“But it wasn’t the first time I met for church in a car,” he said, explaining that once, in the 1970s, those attending a service at the Life Saving Church (then known as the Assembly of God Church) just stayed in their cars.

“They didn’t want to get out,” he said.

Belch explained that the drive-in idea was a way for the churches to continue while maintaining social distancing and keeping everyone safe.

The joy and camaraderie of the two pastors was much in evidence.

“The church is never about the building,” Belch said. “The church can still minister.”

Fitch-Slater said the Sunday, April 5, service will be communion with people remaining in their cars.

‘Drive-in’ church at the Ocracoke School circle. Photo: C. Leinbach
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  1. This really blesses my heart. I am so proud of how Ocracoke is such a wonderful example to the world for being strong in all disasters and times that are tough and finding joy in the mist of it all. You encourage those that are not there with you. Psalm 91

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