- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A New Jersey church has turned a drive-through bank into a place for divine deposits.

The Hope United Methodist Church in Voorhees Township recently relaunched its drive-through location, one of a growing number across the country. The idea may have started as a joke, but it has proved to be a valuable resource for worshippers and non-worshippers behind the wheel.

“It might not be any person of any faith with any kind of belief system, but we try to be open and prepared for whatever might come through,” said church spokeswoman Nancy Seigle. “There’s nothing to do with collecting money or targeting people. We’re open to see who God sends us.”

Hope United Methodist Church is about 35 minutes east of Philadelphia. The drive-through is at the corner of the property near a four-way light along a busy street. Its hours are 5-7 p.m. Thursday, and the prayer drop box is open 24/7. The church also has an email address, prayer@meethope.org, where the faithful can send requests.

Ms. Seigle said the hope is that people driving past “maybe [aren’t] even thinking of such a thing,” but might decide to swing through to ask for a prayer or share their worries with one of the volunteers staffing the reconverted bank.

“We’ve gotten people who’ve shared serious situations,” Ms. Seigle said, but nothing that has warranted outside help. Volunteers go through training and have a list of emergency and crisis numbers if needed.

Ms. Seigle said two or three volunteers staff the drive-through. When they are not helping motorists, they are attending to requests sent through the church’s prayer wall or email, or the dozen personal requests the church picks each week.

The idea for the drive-through was generated as the congregation debated what to do with the building they bought in the fall of 2012.

“We weren’t quite sure what we were going to do with it,” Ms. Seigle said. “But it’s contiguous to our property; it feels like it’s in our own backyard anyway. So the congregation approved it, purchased it, and we decided that we wanted it to be used to bless the community.”

Church members weighed the costly option of reconfiguring the building and tearing down the bank’s two drive-through windows. Then someone suggested drive-through prayer, a decision reported by the Cherry Hill Courier-Post that year.

“We all laughed about it until we thought, actually, that’s a cool idea,” Ms. Seigle said. “We are a church, we are Christian, and we want to bless the community. We figured if we were offering drive-through prayer, that’s a cool way to do it.”

When the drive-through opened, momentum from the media helped bring in motorists, but city regulations and the church’s signage required it to shut down for a time. The drive-through reopened in late April.

Hope’s drive-through is one of several across the country that provide church services to motorists.

In Estero, Florida, the Estero United Methodist Church has operated a seasonal drive-through for several years.

John Halley, director of discipleship, said the drive-through runs January through April because the summer months get too hot and about 60 percent of the city’s residents head elsewhere.

Similar to the Hope drive-through, Estero’s facility is just outside the church and along a major road.

“I’d say it’s primarily locals, but we’re on Highway 41, so we get a lot of people,” Mr. Halley said. “The demographic that [stops] is pretty random. We’ve got folks from all walks of life facing their own unique sets of issues.”

Estero’s drive-through is open from 5:15-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Mr. Halley said six or seven cars will come by some weeks.

“It varies pretty drastically,” he said. “Some weeks we only get a couple folks.”

Like the Voorhees locals, the community response in Estero has been warm and intrigued.

“I think people get a kick out of it, regardless of whether they’re churchgoing folks,” Mr. Halley said. “But for people who stopped, they’re very thankful.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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