DELTA — It’s a few minutes before dawn when the first cars pull in, the moon still bright overhead, the ground soft and damp from overnight rains. Snow flurries are visible high over the Grand Mesa to the north.
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“Good morning,” said guitarist Rob Wolcott, the first person to arrive at the Tru Vu Drive In theater in Delta to set up the sound system for the 2020 Easter sunrise service. “He is risen.”
Normally crowds flock to the Tru Vu just after dusk to catch the latest Hollywood movies. Today, they arrive just before sunrise to hear the word of Jesus.
“Honk your horn for ‘hallelujah,’ flash your lights for ‘praise Jesus,’” Wolcott said with a smile to those who came early.
Driven from their sanctuaries by public health orders banning large gatherings of people to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Western Slope churches bridged virtual and in-person worship to celebrate Easter early Sunday morning.
In Gunnison, dozens of vehicles parked in the lot at Bethany Church to hear Pastor Tom Burggraf preach from the bed of a pickup truck, musicians performing from the bed of another.
Burggraf, who also directs the Western Colorado University Foundation, has been conducting sermons online for weeks. But this Sunday, he said he wanted his congregation to gather — safely in their cars — to help them remember that God’s love isn’t virtual, but real.
Further west, in Delta, nearly a dozen churches organized to host the drive-in Easter service. Congregants were required by the Delta County Health Department to remain in their vehicles, radios tuned to 106.5 FM to hear the service at a safe physical distance.
Elsewhere across Colorado, many churches held online services to connect with their congregations.
“We are celebrating the empty tomb. We get to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and experience it together as a community, which is pretty cool in this particular situation,” said Delta Christian Church Senior Minister Eric Duncan, who delivered the sermon. “We do a community church service similar to this each summer, but not in cars, so this will be a new experience.”
By 7 a.m., more than 100 hundreds cars, trucks and SUVs had parked at the Delta drive in — carefully, under guidance from the health department. The vehicles brought individuals and elderly couples to church, and families with kids crawling over the seats, as though they were getting ready to watch a movie.
“It’s good to see each and everyone of you,” Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Greg Teel said, welcoming the gathered faithful to the radio broadcast. “We are required to stay in our vehicles during this service, it’s just a great way to protect each other and to honor our government a little bit. Isn’t it great that Margaret Stalcup opened up this theater to give us this venue to do this? So honk your horns for her a little bit.”
He preached from a flatbed truck loaded with sound equipment. Wolcott and his partner, keyboardist Jake Sullivan, performed songs and led hymns, while people sang along in their cars. Midway through the service, when the clouds moved out and the sun began to shine on the drive in, car horns erupted in praise.
Terry Hedrick, lead pastor at Gunnison Valley Church of the Nazarene in Delta, offered the invocation, calling on Jesus to “be with those that are sick and afflicted and those that are in the hospital and drawing breath and not knowing if it is life or day, oh God, we are asking right now, in the name of Jesus, come and heal them fully and completely, and deliver them from darkness and bring them into the light of your love.”