SALEM TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Since the end of May, St. Mary's Visitation Catholic Church south of Byron Center has had drive-in Mass to help keep its parishioners safe, but get them back to in-person services.
"It's really calm and peaceful and boy, we need that peacefulness in today's world right now," said parish priest, Fr. Christopher Derda, "that's the sense you get when you come out here."
Nearly 150 vehicles packed the church's parking lot on Sunday morning as the popularity continues to rise.
"I said, 'Bishop, what can we do?' because we're limited on the number of people we can have in the church," added Fr. Derda, "I said, 'can we have outdoor Mass?'"
That's when parishioners came together to build and decorate a structure for outdoor services just behind the church itself.
"Some call it the prayer wagon, I call it the Mass pavilion," laughed Derda, "it's a great structure, it won't blow away, it's very solid."
Parishioners are able to stay in their vehicles or bring lawn chairs if they wish, all keeping proper distance from others around them.
"Some people are still worried about contracting the coronavirus," Derda said. "Some people are worried they can't get back to Mass so they're torn, this is a really safe alternative."
The parish's focus is to limit those inside the church during their two other weekend services, due to the 25-percent indoor capacity limitation. However, with the popularity of the outdoor Mass, that isn't something they've had to worry about.
"We have not gone over our capacity in church yet, which is really good. I think the reason why is because of the outdoor Mass, people have responded, from all three local parishes that we work with."
Fr. Derda adds that the outdoor Masses will likely continue until all restrictions are lifted.
"It almost feels like a Catholic shrine," he smiled, "like Rome or St. Peter's Square. The sun is shining, the Pope has his Mass outdoors and has his Mass pavilion and it kind of has that feel to it. It's really calm and peaceful."