Hallelujahs rang out Easter morning not from voices at King of Kings Church but from vehicle horns all across the parking lot near 116th and I Streets in southwest Omaha.
Appearing on a 12-by-20-foot video screen, the Rev. Greg Griffith implored parents and children listening at home or sitting in their vehicles because of the coronavirus to celebrate the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Open your windows and doors at home, run outside and shout, ‘He is risen,’ ” Griffith exhorted. “In your cars, honk your horns.”
Griffith paused during the ensuing jubilee, but his words would’ve been drowned out anyway by the cacophony of sound that rose from the parking lot. A mighty ruckus was raised, despite a bitter wind and incessant rain.
“I love that we just broke Satan’s eardrums,” Griffith said a minute later.
King of Kings Church began in 1962 with 75 members and is affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, a mainline Protestant denomination. On this Easter, like no other in memory, with churches empty due to concerns about social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, King of Kings found a way to bring its flock together.
“We also had services (outside) for Palm Sunday,” Griffith said. “My sense is it was just a great way to bring a little joy. As much as it could be with social distancing, it felt like Easter.”
The church held two parking lot services on Palm Sunday, at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The staff started planning for three Easter services, but the interest led them to schedule services at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Vehicles, mostly SUVs and minivans, began rolling through the rain into the parking lot for the 9 a.m. service about 8:30 a.m. Volunteers in orange and lime-green ponchos were spaced throughout the parking lot waving flashlights as if guiding airplanes into position.
About 140 vehicles were admitted for each service. The vehicles were parked at least 6 feet apart, and the congregation, for the most part, kept their windows rolled up.
The volunteers walked between the vehicles with signs telling everyone to tune to 95.5 FM to hear the hymns, readings and the sermon. At one point, a church security vehicle was summoned to jump-start the battery of a car belonging to a reporter who had foolishly let his battery run down.
The Rev. Mark Zehnder spoke to the congregation about how proud he was of them during the pandemic. A recent Red Cross blood drive at King of Kings had seen every time slot filled.
“It’s just awesome to see what’s going on in this church at a very difficult time,” Zehnder said. “I have not been able to hug my grandchildren in over six weeks. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to see a community, and a church, like never before.”
Griffith reminded the congregation that anyone needing counseling or wanting someone with whom to pray should contact King of Kings. The church has several trained counselors ready to teleconference with people struggling with separation and anxiety, he said.
“One of our goals (with the Palm Sunday and Easter services) is that we believe the Omaha community is going to need to see each other and gather together,” Griffith said. “We will get through this because Jesus is in control.”