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

The church would have to hold a dozen services in the sanctuary in order to leave 6 feet between seats and accommodate the 700 to 800 people who attended services pre-pandemic, Graybill said.

The church has taken those precautions seriously, in part because of another one of its mantras—”Everyone an icon”—meaning it believes everyone is made in the image of God, the executive pastor explained.

“I think we have a part as a church (to say), ‘Hey, there’s this pandemic that’s happening, and there’s people that are really vulnerable to this. And so what does it look like to love not only our church community, but the people outside our church community?'” Graybill said.

Next week, when the ballpark is hosting a viewing party for a Chicago Cubs game, the church plans to meet for a socially distant tailgate party in the Studebaker parking lot.
It’s a little ironic, Graybill said, because most of the church staff is “so oblivious to sports.”
“Most of our team has spent more time in a stadium for church than they ever have for a sporting event,” he said.

But both the church and the minor league baseball team feel like they’ve hit a home run with the arrangement.

Like the church, South Bend Cubs President Joe Hart said, “At the end of the day, we try to be an organization that is very community minded, and this is just another way to help out.
“Obviously, with no baseball season, we have the venue, and it was sitting empty, so let’s try to utilize it the best we can and, in the process, help out,” Hart said.

On Sunday evening, South Bend City Church’s middle and high school groups, called “tables,” met for the first time in months, playing cornhole or sitting at an appropriate distance around fire pits set up in the Studebaker parking lot.

Just over the train tracks, about 200 people—wearing masks, spreading out across the stands, picking up zip-close packets of activities to keep the littlest kids entertained—gathered for worship at Four Winds Field.

The church plans to meet there through October, and, as the weather chills, its pastors already are thinking about how they can continue to gather through the long winter months. One idea: The church may leave its nearby sanctuary open for individual reflection this Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, according to Miller.

But Sunday was warm, and the lead pastor preached about compassion fatigue and the parable of the good Samaritan, asking, “How can we open our hearts to all of this pain?”
Sitting in the stands was Angela Logan, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who has been attending the church from the beginning.

“This is a very big change, and yet I joke because I’m a sports girl and so sports stadiums are, to me, somewhat sacred,” Logan said.

Like religion, she said, sports share a commitment to something higher — an emphasis on the team, not the player.

And there’s a sacredness to the ballpark, she said, if for no other reason than meeting there takes Jesus’ call to love one’s neighbor seriously when health experts say meeting outdoors makes it more difficult to spread COVID-19.

“This is as safe as you can be in this season, and I think it’s an incredible reflection of God’s love and grace to be able to do this for people, even for myself,” Logan said.

This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com

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