Parishioners of Woodland Drive-In Church in Michigan can no longer honk their horns for Jesus after complaints prompted police to law down the law.
Woodland regular Marianne Wilkins told WZZM 13 that those who attend the Sunday service listen to the sermon broadcast over the FM radio and parishioners will honk in support – about 15 seconds out of the hour-long service.
“That’s how people applaud from their car,” she said. “I never ever considered it could be bothering someone.”
An unidentified church leader told WZZM 13 that when the church moved to its current location in the 1980s, an agreement of some sort was made that attendees wouldn’t honk during the service. It’s unclear if it was a verbal or written agreement.
Apparently, the congregation ignored that part of the deal for 40 years and no one really complained, until recently.
“We had a complaint, and so there’s no more horn blowing,” said Ed Marville, who attends Woodland.
Marville said the city sent in the big guns to make sure they toe the line.
“We had a Grand Rapids police officer come in and park next to one of our cars,” he said. “Nothing happened, we didn’t blow (our) horns. But they were just waiting for us to blow our horns.”
The Woodland Drive-In Church’s website explains that the church was established in the 1970s as part of a program with Fifth Reformed Church, and assistance from a local move theater owner.
“For the first two years, Woodland held services only in the summer, but by 1972 it had become a yearround ministry – and has been ever since,” according to the site.
The church eventually moved to a new location in the 1980s, paid for by the worshipers, and became a self-supporting church in the mid-1990s. Its success stems from the unique nature of worshiping in a vehicle, which offers some advantages.
The types of folks who attend, according to the website:
Tom grew up in the Christian Reformed Church but always felt uncomfortable in large crowds (the technical term is agoraphobia). Shortly after his marriage, both he and his wife, Donna, dropped out of church. After a number of years, he heard about the drive-in and began to attend our services. Now he is one of our most active volunteers. His car provides a safe haven. His wife attends regularly with him.
Fred had surgery on his leg and needed to keep it elevated—not easy to do in a church pew or chair. So for a few weeks he attended our services. After the healing took place, he returned to his regular church.
Grand Rapids resident Linda Voetberg told the Grand Rapids Press she had a brain tumor removed 30 years ago and several surgeries since to conceal the initial operation. She’s left with deep scars and finds comfort in being able to worship from her truck.
“When I had my tumor removed, it left my face kind of twisted,” said Voetberg. “I’ve had five plastic surgeries on my face, so it’s easier to stay in the car.”
But Voetberg and the others in unfortunate situations who rely on Woodland for spiritual support will now have to sit on their hands Sundays, instead of giving an Amen honk.
WZZM 13 reports Woodland worshipers believe that silencing their horns may be a violation of their civil rights, though the reporter didn’t attribute the comment to a specific person.