HOLLY SPRINGS — First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, had a drive-in service on Palm Sunday. But Easter dawned cold and rainy, so about 45 of them socially distanced in the church sanctuary that morning. But halfway through the service, the police showed up. Pastor Jerry Waldrop then broke the news to his congregation: "Well, we have some guests showed up and said we have to disperse. I told them to come in and we'd run y'all off."
But the pastor didn't stop there. He thought the church was being singled out and treated differently than businesses were being treated – so before dismissing his flock, he asked them to help him prove that point.
"When we dismiss here, we're all going to Walmart and go in," he said, drawing at least one audible "Amen!" from his flock. "I want to prove the point that they're not enforcing the law."
And that's what Waldrop's parishioners did. They had no problem all getting into the Walmart – which the pastor says was crowded with customers – and began walking the floor. But once again, his church was singled out:
"The mayor had entered the building and he pulled me aside and said, 'I need to talk to you.' I said, 'Okay.' He was telling me we couldn't be in the store."
According to Waldrop, the mayor insisted the church had broken some protocol by being in the Walmart but couldn't be specific about which one – and Walmart evidently didn't have a problem with the church members being in the store.
"[The authorities] never really told us what we did that was offensive or out of order," Waldrop said. "As we went out the door, the store manager showed up and he said, 'Look, we can't make y'all leave. Y'all don't have to leave the store.'"
At least two other Mississippi churches – Temple Baptist Church and King James Bible Church, both in Greenville – have had their "drive-in" worship services disrupted in the last two weeks under directives from local officials. Both churches brought lawsuits, and as of yesterday the Greenville mayor has backed away from his order and now allows drive-in services.