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Ryder church marks year of drive-in worship services

Submitted Photo Pastor Jonathan Starks of Calvary Church in Ryder holds a photo of himself giving a sermon during a snowstorm. “I was surprised with a wonderful gift that captures that special sermon in a photo,” he said. Starks has held drive-in worship services since last Easter Sunday on April 12, 2020.

RYDER – One year ago on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, Calvary Church in Ryder began holding drive-in worship services so people could maintain social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The church building was not large enough for social distancing.

“We’ve never missed a Sunday,” said Pastor Jonathan Starks.

The 10:30 a.m. services are broadcast by short-range FM transmitter to people in vehicles in the church parking lot who can listen to the service on their vehicles’ radios. Some people are also able to listen to it in their homes.

The first service conducted from a flatbed trailer parked near the church on Easter Sunday 2020 got off to a rough start when a snowstorm suddenly hit, but then the snow quit and the sun came out.

Submitted Photo Pastor Jonathan Starks looks out from a deer stand during a Sunday service. A year ago on Easter Sunday in 2020, Calvary Church in Ryder began holding drive-in worship services so people could maintain social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The journey of outdoor services started on Easter Sunday a year ago,” Starks said. “Preaching outside in a snowstorm to the community that I love will always be a highlight of my ministry here in North Dakota. I was surprised with a wonderful gift that captures that special sermon in a photo.”

During the past year, services have been held in all types of weather.

Starks said they even held services when the temperature hit 22 below for two Sundays in February of this year.

He wasn’t sure if people would come to the services due to the extreme cold. “But they all came and we had a great turnout,” he said. About 41 people sat in their vehicles and listened to the service.

Besides cars, SUVs and pickups, people have driven their motorcycles, hot rods, 4-wheelers and also a tractor to the services. Some bring their pets along to services.

Submitted Photo Pastor Jonathan Starks and his wife, Pamela, pose for this photo. The deer stand he has been using since fall to conduct services from is at the back left and the Calvary Church building at the right.

Those attending are from the local area but some also attend from other communities including Minot, Garrison, Bismarck and Berthold.

The highest number in attendance was 101 people and 40-some vehicles on May 3, 2020. Starks said he isn’t sure why so many attended on that day.

Starks family members help with the services. Starks’ wife, Pamela, their son, Daniel Starks, and their daughter, Priscilla Starks. Daniel, a musician, also is music teacher at Max School.

The flatbed trailer was used for services until last fall when the concern arose of how much longer they could hold services outdoors so they began searching for a way to continue.

Local resident Rod Johansen came to the rescue, offering his green-colored deer stand. Since then, Jonathan Starks has been holding services from the deer stand parked on a trailer near the church.

The unique outdoor worship service conducted from a deer stand got media coverage in North Dakota and some areas out of state. During one of his COVID-19 news conferences Gov. Doug Burgum also gave recognition to the Ryder church for its unique way of holding services from a deer stand.

Jonathan Starks said the drive-in worship services will continue.

As of Thursday, a flatbed trailer has been set up again and will be used for the summer when the weather is nice and the deer stand will be available as a backup when the weather is rainy or too windy or if there might be a snowstorm like last year, said Pamela Starks.

“The real thing was so people could be together,” Jonathan Starks said. He said the drive-in worship services have brought encouragement and lifted people during hard times.

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