Last year when large gatherings were banned many churches began outdoor services.
It was a difficult transition for many and while some have returned to limited indoor seating, one Orlando church carries on with the socially distant, outdoor gatherings.
The cars start pulling in to Evangel Orlando Assembly of God shortly before 10 am on Sunday mornings. The grass lot off Hoffner Avenue fills up fast as the church band plays in the distance.
Parishioner, Scott Peterson, is first in line.
“They try to park everyone so they get a good view and can hear,” Peterson said. “It’s also on the radio so if the planes are loud we can still hear.”
Pastor Gary Rice preaches from the roof above the church portico.
“We literally do a broadcast from the rooftop so to speak,” Rice said.
“The ladder over there is his elevator,” Peterson joked. “I kid him. That extension ladder is where he goes up and down.”
Scott Peterson says he’s grateful to pastor Rice for providing a safe environment.
“It’s nice to be able to get out and see other people,” Peterson said. “It’s good watching it on Facebook but there’s something special when you’re here live.”
Peterson is still recovering from an infection that put him in a nursing home for nearly three years. The illness took his foot.
He says pastor Rice helped him through the challenging time.
“When you go through a situation that your life changes it’s a lot of adjustment and he helped,” Peterson added.
Peterson says he doesn’t have any family nearby and Rice was a regular visitor.
“He does stuff like that for people that they don’t see or know about,” Peterson said. “He goes above and beyond.”
Peterson says an example of this is when, for two years in a row, Rice picked him up from the rehab center and invited him into his home for Christmas dinners.
The regular visits helped provide a foundation for a close friendship that still continues today. The two text daily.
Peterson nominated Rice for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
“Scott is one of my best cheerleaders,” Rice said. “I just did what a pastor should do. I made sure he knew he was loved and I continued to visit.”
“That was a life-altering situation for me,” Peterson remembers. “And to know that he was coming and visiting it helped. And knowing that this place is always here helped.”