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Churches Hit Home Run With Services in Ballparks and Stadiums as COVID-19 Cancels Sports

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South Bend City Church gathers for an outdoor service at Four Winds Field in South Bend, Indiana, during summer 2020. Photo by Adam Raschka

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (RNS) — It was sunny and 73 degrees, the perfect day for a baseball game. But that’s not why the crowd filled the stands Sunday (Sept. 20) at Four Winds Field in South Bend, Indiana, home of the South Bend Cubs.

They were there for a church service, complete with worship leaders on the third-base line and Scriptures on the Jumbotron.

South Bend City Church—a 4-year-old church that draws on a number of Christian traditions for its music, messages and mantras — has been meeting at the minor league ballpark since the novel coronavirus pandemic threw a curveball into large gatherings like worship services.

“In March, we shut down gatherings pretty quickly, and we’re really, really grateful to work with the Cubs to have a place that’s safe and spread out and be outdoors,” said Jason Miller, lead pastor of South Bend City Church.

Amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, churches across the country have found creative ways to touch base with their members this year.

Many churches have moved online. But, Miller said, it’s not the same when Christianity “is inherently communal.”

“Digital is great. It’s a wonderful tool. But I think we all know the difference between Zooming your parents and hugging them at Thanksgiving,” he said.

Those churches that have continued to  meet in person  in their buildings have done so with smaller gatherings, social distancing, mask wearing and other measures meant to protect worshippers from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Others have hosted  drive-in services. At least one held a kayak service.

And, with many sports canceled for the season, some churches—like South Bend City Church—have filled the stands at the empty stadiums and ballparks in their neighborhoods.

First Baptist Church McKinney in McKinney, Texas, encouraged members to wear their favorite jerseys to its ” Stadium Service ” last month at the local school district’s football stadium.

And Zion and Lake Hanska Lutheran churches in Hanska, Minnesota, met every other week this summer at the baseball field about a block from Zion, according to the Rev. Sarah Taylor, who pastors both congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The ballpark turned out to be a surprisingly “ideal” setup, Taylor said.

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Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.