The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf thought having people honk their car horns every time he said “amen” would be a good idea.

Big mistake.

“The first time was nice,” Greenleaf said.

A FM transmitter sends the message of Rev. Daniel Greenleaf and Rev. John Sacreties to parishioners listening to their car radios in the Geiger parking lot in Lewiston on Sunday morning. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

But then “it started sounding like a rock concert,” he said. “Not very prayer-like.”

Greenleaf said he would not be making the recommendation at the beginning of the next Mass.

Traditional church services across Maine have been canceled at least through the end of May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus prevention measures include a state mandate that large gatherings cannot happen inside churches.

“If they cannot come into the church, I can bring mass out to the parking lot,” Greenleaf said before the start of Sunday’s parking lot Mass.

Neighbor Betty Olson said she knew “someone was up to something” when cars started rolling into the Geiger parking lot at 6 a.m. Sunday, a day the Lewiston parking lot typically remains empty.

“Geiger is always up to something,” Olson said about the family-owned business that donated the use of its parking lot for 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses Sunday.

Rev. John Sacreties, left, and Rev. Daniel Greenleaf of Prince of Peace Parish greet parishioners from a distance following Sunday morning mass in the Geiger parking lot in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“This is wonderful,” Olson said, while standing among 70 or so cars.

Volunteers from the Knights of Columbus directed traffic so “low rise” cars got to park up front while trucks and SUVs parked in back.

“Someone smarter than me though of that idea,” parking attendant Rick Jensen of Lewiston said.

“What I like about this is its a sense of community,” Jensen said. “I have seen people that I have not seen in a long time.

“Part of loving thy neighbor is to see them. Being away from something that you treasure, such as faith, will give you a better appreciation for it. You don’t know what you have until its gone.”

Added Sue Laliberte of Wales, “This is one step back to being in the church.”

Rev. John Sacreties tells parishioners what FM radio station to dial into for the parking lot mass on Sunday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Like Jensen, Laliberte said being a part of a community is what she has missed the most since restrictions on gatherings have been put in place.

Yes, Laliberte has been watching Mass online, but said it is not the same as attending.

“I wanted to come to mass — WITH people,” Laliberte said. “There is much more sense of community in this parking lot than there is being in our homes.”

“I like the fact that I’m with people that I have something in common with,” said Anne Pontbriand, a theology teacher at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn. “Besides, I’m fed up with being at home.”

Pontbriand said watching live church services online has been somewhat of an eye-opener. People chime in before and after the online service in the comment section on Facebook.

Pontbriand said she often recognizes the names of those making comments, but those names are not necessarily people she knows through church.

“I like the fact that I’m with people that I have something in common with,” said Anne Pontbriand, a theology teacher at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Now I know we have more in common that what we thought we did. Something good has came out of it,” Pontbriand said of attending Mass through videoconferencing.

Following the final prayer and the last car horn, Greenleaf and the Rev. John Sacreties stepped away from the altar and put on their protective face masks. They walked across the parking lot and said hello through car windows as each parishioner left the parking lot.

Two cars pulled out at the same time, but one driver waved the other to go ahead.

“Look how friendly you guys are being,” Greenleaf said with a smile. “That’s because you just went to Mass.”

Another parishioner had his car hood up. Listening to Mass on his car radio killed the battery. Clergy pulled up to give him a jump.

“Four more weeks of this. It’s kind’ve novel, but it will get old at some point,” Greenleaf said of Mass being held in parking lots. “It’s not really about who we are.

“It’s hard to do what we are about when you are a car length apart. But it’s a start. It’s all we can do. I can’t get you in the church, but I can bring the church out to you.”

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