SHIPKA, ONT. -- As a few churches challenge gathering restrictions, another in our region has found a way to meet within guidelines.

For the second summer in a row, parishioners of Villages United Rural Ministries will meet at the Starlite Drive-in Theatre in Shipka, just east of Grand Bend.

The services will be held on alternating Sundays beginning in June.

Reverend Jacob Shaw states the choice to return to a drive-in service in 2021 is a safe and comforting move for his congregation.

“People will see each other from each other’s cars and kind of wave.”

As was the case in 2020, all COVID-19 protocols will be followed. People will not be allowed to leave their cars except to use the washroom.

Drive-in church service
In submitted photos, members of the Villages United Rural Ministries participate in a 2020 drive-in service.

Shaw says even if restrictions ease over the summer, controls here will be tight to protect elderly parishioners.

“And then people don’t have to worry about, could thereby a chance?”

Shaw recognizes his cautious approach contrasts a few churches in Ontario, including the Church of God Restoration in Aylmer. Its leader continues to challenge COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

But Shaw maintains faith can work within them.

“We understand not every church feels that way, you got to respect that to a degree. But people have their differences.”

And when it comes to differences, there will be a big one during the drive-in services.

The 50 to 70 cars expected will be spaced out and not face the screen. Shaw will be on the roof of the snack bar with a band.

Watching below will be the Dunn Family. The youngest, Percival, was born during a COVID-19 shutdown.

Dunn family
The Dunn family is seen at the Starlite Drive-in Theatre in Shipka, Ont. The Dunns will join others this June, inside their cars, for a drive-in church service at the site.(Sean Irvine / CTV News)

His father, Devin, says he hopes to one day be able to baptize his son in front of a large crowd. But until then, he’s happy to - sort of - see faces at the drive-in services.

“It’s a weird time we live in right now, and seeing anyone that you used to see prior to COVID gives you the elation of ‘Oh joy!'"

And that joy may now transcend beyond COVID-19. Shaw believes the success of the drive-in services will see more held in a mask-free future.

“I can certainly see us coming back a few times through the summer just to relive the memories of this experience and keep the tradition moving forward.”