As some remain hesitant about contagion, Plymouth parish meets families where they are: in their vehicles in the parking lot

Story by Dan Meloy; video by Andrew Kleczek

PLYMOUTH — Make way drive-in movies, it’s time for drive-in Mass.

For almost two months, parishioners across the Archdiocese of Detroit have participated in Mass from their cars, lawn chairs and in parking lots as parishes adapt to social distancing in light of COVID-19.

While many parishes have resumed indoor Masses, for others, the combination of coronavirus concerns and the nice outdoor weather have made fresh-air liturgies a practical — and innovative — solution. 

At Our Lady Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, parishioners pack the parking lot three times each Sunday as Fr. Michael Suhy, the parish’s pastor, or an associate pastor celebrates Mass from atop a two-story wooden parapet parishioners built.

Fr. Suhy said parish staff has asked the Blessed Mother for “100 days or so” of beautiful weather to continue outdoor Masses, even as some liturgies — such as the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Masses — move indoors.

As parishioners drive in, ushers-turned-parking lot attendants direct the faithful to tune in to a low-powered radio station to hear the music and readings — another innovation in a time of innovations.

A family sits outside in the parking lot at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth for Mass on June 28. Since the Archdiocese of Detroit resumed public liturgies May 19, the Plymouth parish has continued to offer weekly Mass outdoors in its parking lot as an accommodation for those worried about COVID-19. (Photos by Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)
Fr. David Tomaszycki, associate pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, addresses the faithful during his last Sunday Mass before transitioning to a new assignment July 1. 

“Back at the end of April, the Lord gave us this idea. We are blessed with this huge parking lot, so why not use it to serve God’s people?” Fr. Suhy told Detroit Catholic. “We’ve been doing this since May 19, when Archbishop (Allen H.) Vigneron allowed us to offer the Mass again for the people.”

While the celebrant occupies the second story of the parapet, music ministers play from the lower level as the congregation follows along in their cars.

“It’s definitely not like anything I’ve ever done before,” said Tom Oram, worship leader at Our Lady of Good Counsel. “I had a rock band back in the day, so I’m used to playing outdoor gigs. But doing Masses in what I call ‘Fr. Michael’s treehouse’ ... it’s a good metaphor for faith. We don’t see what’s happening all the time, but we know, we trust, and we believe.”

During Communion, extraordinary ministers bring the Eucharist to people in their cars in pyxides, small containers to hold the consecrated host. After delivering the pyx to the driver of the vehicle, the driver than distributes the Eucharist to all in the vehicle.

Afterwards, ministers return to the car to reclaim the pyxides for cleansing.

An extraordinary minister offers Communion to a person in their vehicle June 28 during Mass in the parking lot at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth.

Fr. Suhy said the reception to the idea has been overwhelmingly positive. While some are eager to return to worshiping in the church, others, such as medical professionals or those with compromised immune systems, are grateful for the accommodation.

“The first couple of Masses we did, we had people weeping, saying they were afraid to go back to church,” Fr. Suhy said. “They are grateful to worship in the parking lot. I had a mom of eight kids saying she feels so safe being in her car.”

Parishioner Cristina Ryzyi stated coming to the parking lot Masses as soon as they were available.

“I think the community aspect is a very large part of it,” Ryzyi said. “Even though we are all sitting in our cars, we have that camaraderie of being together in a spot that is holy and beautiful. The first time I came, Fr. Michael asked us all to rejoice with our honking of horns. You could hear the echoing of honking, just knowing that people are rejoicing in the Lord that we’re all together.”

With the celebrant on the second level and music ministers below, each Sunday the parish has celebrated Mass from a large parapet built by parishioners in the parish parking lot.

On June 28, two young parishioners received their first Communion at Our Lady of Good Counsel — a memorable moment, even if it wasn’t quite how they imagined it. 

It’s all an adjustment, but it’s still about the Eucharist, Fr. Suhy said.

“There is this immense gratitude from God’s people that we are ministering to them where they are,” Fr. Suhy said. “Nurses and doctors and others who haven’t seen their kids for weeks because they have been quarantining, they feel safe coming to the parking lot. 

“This is the Motor City, where we love our cars,” Fr. Suhy said. “If people can worship in their vehicles, they are really excited about that.”