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

Hanlin Field already had a sound system, and its fence helped delineate space so nobody could get too close, she said. The congregation sat at safe distances in the field or in their cars along the road.

Taylor performed a baptism in front of the concession stand and considered the birds building nests above her head in the stands.

“I’m a birder, so I have gotten a kick out of watching the birds that were nesting just over my head as I would stand in front of the press box,” she said. “I like to remind folks that Jesus told us God notices every little bird.”

Being able to meet at the ballpark was a “huge blessing” for the pastor because it gave her a few less things to worry about in the midst of a pandemic.

And for the rest of the congregation, Taylor said, “I think the kids are going to remember this as the summer we worshipped at the ballpark.”

The executive pastor of South Bend City Church, Matt Graybill, said taking the pandemic seriously was a “no-brainer” for his church.

“We do not want to put people in harm’s way either within our church gathering or out in our city,” he said.

Initially, South Bend City Church stayed connected with its members through podcasts and video.

But when church staffers heard minor league baseball was canceling its season, they reached out to the South Bend Cubs and have been meeting mostly at the Cubs’ Four Winds Field since June.

The baseball field is practically South Bend City Church’s backyard, too.

The nondenominational church—which emphasizes making room for everyone and their doubts—normally meets just across the street, inside the old Studebaker plant, a symbol both of the Midwestern city’s decline and now its rebirth.

The seating in its sanctuary circles the pulpit, which underscores the church’s mantra emphasizing shared practices over performances. But it also makes distancing difficult, according to Graybill.

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