by Ethan Groothuis
Carver County News
Eileen Nelson and Cindy Essen were practically giddy when someone entered the Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot on a cold March morning.
“Oh, we got one! Someone is coming in!” Essen said, as she prepared a cup of coffee for a man in a blue GMC.
This Holy Week, Trinity is offering a different celebration from the norm – drive thru prayer.
Nelson and Essen are two of a handful of people who stand outside the church offering prayer, not as a single-serving commodification of an important tenant of Christianity, but to bring hope and encouragement to those about to start a busy, stressful day of work.
“The weather might get worse — it will be really chilly tomorrow,” Nelson said. “But we’ll be here.”
Drive thru prayers started last year at Trinity after new pastor Jeffrey Engholm mentioned a church in South Minneapolis that did a similar activity.
“I thought everyone would ignore it and just call me silly, but they loved it,” Engholm said.
This year the set up is the same. Engholm and other volunteers wave signs announcing free prayer, cookies and coffee along the highway in front of Trinity, while a handful of members wait in the parking lot, ready to serve whomever comes their way.
“When we visit and meet, we talk about keeping everyone in prayer, whether or not they come into the parking,” Engholm said. “We pray for everyone coming by. ‘Do a prayer for that person in that Chevy and one for that Ford,’ we’ll say. It’s not just about getting people into the parking lot, it’s about the visible presence, and keeping folks in prayer.”
Engholm thought that if this year is anything like last year, the first day gets the attention of passersby and by the end of the week the number picks up. But he is aware that many who may want a quick prayer and coffee will still avoid it.
“It’s a big thing to pull in if there isn’t anyone you know,” Enghold said.
Engholm believes that people come for a multitude of reasons, including being curious or even just wanting free coffee (“and that’s just great!”) but also because people are struggling.
“Last year at the end, people weren’t asking for just generic prayer,” Engholm said. “People were askign for prayers for their family members who were dying, maybe someone with drug problems. Significant conversations were happening and then they just went on their way. We hope that in one sixty second encounter, maybe it can be a day brightener.”
The church had already received an email shortly after they concluded their first day of drive thru prayer.
“We don’t live very close, and I was feeling weary,” the anonymous email read. “Your prayer with me has helped boost my energy and spirits for the day and long path ahead!”
The week’s worth of drive thru prayers coincides with Holy Week. The congregation chose Holy Week because of the lead up to Easter.
“It’s about the dying of the old and rising of the new,” Engholm said. “The whole week is devoted to that. We could do it anytime of the year, but we do it as a visible sign of hope for people and new life.”
Prayers and coffee will continue through Good Friday every morning from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. in the Trinity Lutheran parking lot.