Worshippers raise thousands to make outdoor church possible

SPARTA, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite an exemption from enforcement of coronavirus capacity restrictions, one house of worship is doing whatever it can to make sure its congregations are safe.

Sparta United Methodist Church has made a nearly $20,000 investment to do it.

“This room that we’re in right now really doesn’t provide us with a lot of safety when we understand COVID and some of the dangers that are involved,” Phil Friedrick, the pastor at the church, showed News 8 Friday. “And this room doesn’t exchange any air. It doesn’t have an air-handling system, so the air that’s in here is pretty much the air that’s in here.”

Air flow inside the sanctuary is less than ideal when dealing with a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets. But as services were moving outside, Mother Nature always seemed to get in the way.

“Weather pushes us indoors. When we’re indoors, no people follow us,” he said. “We just stream the service. So every time it rains on Sunday, we’re back inside here. Right away, we said, ‘Tent: that sounds like a really great plan.’”

But the dollar figure on a tent can pile up quickly, especially when you want 800 pounds of fabric and sidings with window openings. So the church put it to the congregation.

“We gave them a $7,000 matching challenge,” Friedrick said. “We said we’ll match the first $7,000, but within two weeks we had over $17,000 raised of the money we’ll need.”

Though attendance has fallen off, the pastor says his church is going to make sure everyone who shows up feels safe.

“(The tent is) going to do some cool things. It’s going to help some people,” he said. “It’s going to keep some people healthier and hopefully our community healthier and we’re thinking possibly it will save a life or two. And that’s worth an awful lot to us.”

The first service in the tent is 10 a.m. Sunday.