Carols by headlight

Salvation Army officer, Ian Haylett, from Thirsk in North Yorkshire shares how his local churches worked together this 'Covid Christmas'.

Salvation Army officer Ian Haylett writes…

Our original idea came out of a Churches Together in Thirsk & District Zoom meeting held in September 2020 when the Covid pandemic was taking a second grip of the country. We were facing up to the likelihood of trying to celebrate Christmas without the possibility of a public outreach for any of our churches. Was there anything that we could do? Somewhere in the conversation, someone mentioned a crazy idea of having a Covid-safe “Drive-in-Carol Service”! It was sufficiently “out-of-the box” to make it worth exploring further. 

A small group got together, a blank sheet of paper before us and everything began to fall into place.   

We agreed that a simple service with carols, readings, a short message and prayer, all within 35-40 minutes was all that was needed.  But many additional questions remained…a venue, sound requirements, control of numbers; costs; content…paramount being how to ensure that this was going to be Covid-safe. And all this had to be organised within a lockdown which could have been lifted or extended at the start of December!   

The group worked through each issue and solutions presented themselves all along.  In the end we settled on two services, 3pm and 5pm each limited to 100 cars, with attendees remaining in their cars for the duration of the event. It would be a ticket-only affair, free but booked through Eventbrite which allowed us to convey all the restrictions necessary for a safe event. A sound system was hired, the finances were sorted, the local Rotary organised car parking and an excellent group of musicians were lined up to lead the singing. Would anyone come? 

All 200 places were booked with around 450 people attending in total and it was a fantastic event. Although we couldn’t hear the singing, people flashed their lights and honked their car horns in appreciation and joy at being able to do something which was the closest to full-throated singing than they had been able to achieve for much of the year.  As people left there was the noise of car horns, raised thumbs, smiles and a few tears too. The feedback came in from social media and a survey that the event was a universal success.   

Perhaps the most telling point was when the local minister exhorted the crowd that “Christmas is not cancelled!” and was greeted with the longest period of blasted car horns and flashes of headlights! This was the chord that struck with us all. Despite Covid and the restrictions we live under, God is with us. It was true and we all knew it.