With Hole in Sanctuary Walls, Church Worships Outside

CRYSTAL LAKE, IL (August 6, 2015) – At first, the co-pastors of Hope Covenant Church disagreed on whether to hold the worship service last Sunday morning. A car had smashed into their building the night before and was still lodged in their sanctuary.


A church member notified pastor Bill Orris about the accident, which happened around 8:40 p.m. Saturday. His co-pastor and wife, Lisa, was in a meeting and didn’t have her phone turned on. When Bill went to the church and surveyed the damage, emergency officials told him there was no way the congregation could worship inside the next morning. And fire trucks and police vehicles would be using the parking lot.

So late that night, Bill decided to cancel the service. He asked the church office manager, Julie Pelletier, to email the congregation to let them know. When Lisa returned home, Bill told her about the accident and his decision.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Oh no, we’re not not having church tomorrow! What are you thinking?’ ”

Lisa explained, “There might be a car in God’s sanctuary, but God’s people are going to show up.”

Fortunately the email hadn’t been sent, and Bill called Pelletier to ask her to send a different message, this time encouraging people to show up with lawn chairs. Bill said he had no idea how many people actually would read their email before Sunday morning.

It turned out, a lot. Roughly 130 people showed up for the service, which was close to the average for a summer Sunday. At least half of them brought chairs. Several were neighbors who had never been to the church before. They met near a cross in a field behind the church. “It’s the first time we worshiped at the foot of the cross,” Bill said.

It turned out to be a beautiful morning, but the investigation presented an additional challenge. “As soon as I got up to preach, almost as if on cue, the tow truck started to pull the car out,” Lisa said, laughing.

She was continuing a sermon series, “Let Love In.” She emphasized that the church wanted to show love and compassion to the driver, who suffered only minor injuries. “I don’t know if he even realizes it, but he’s lucky to be alive,” Lisa said.

Police say the 19-year-old male lost control of his 1999 Toyota Solara and crossed a concrete median, drove over a berm, bottomed out on the parking lot, and then finally rammed through the walls, coming to rest in the sanctuary, where it displaced many of the chairs. He was arrested for reckless driving and received several other citations.

The Orrises hope the church has the opportunity to minister to the young man. If he is assigned service hours, Bill noted that he might work in the church garden, where Hope Covenant grows produce for a local food pantry.

Officials inspected the church and said that the driver had not struck any of the supporting steel beams, so the structure of the sanctuary remained intact.

Several church members have been teasing Lisa about the drive-thru prayer ministry she started two months ago. The church has a circular driveway, and one night a month a team from the church prays for anyone who pulls in.

Pulling in all the way into the sanctuary was not what anyone had in mind.