After worshippers climb stairs to the fourth floor of the Science Drive Garage, they arrange folding chairs six feet apart. Choir members sing “Create a Clean Heart” as people settle in.
When the song ends, The Rev. Michael Martin approaches them from the far end of Level 4, passing five choir members standing by spaced-apart microphones. Ten musicians sit behind them.
The priest continues to a table covered with a forest-green cloth, three candles, an open bible, an upright text with an angel on its cover, and three small bottles of hand sanitizer. Behind that, a smaller table holds a large golden cross. A Duke Catholic Center banner blocks the glare of sunlight outside.
All over the country people of faith have altered their worship rituals to adapt to life in a pandemic. In Durham, Duke Catholic Center has gone almost open air, staging Mass every Sunday in a campus garage a short walk from Cameron Stadium.
Father Mike pulls down his mask to welcome the people before him, a mix of ages and races. He invites all to greet each other, but not by shaking hands the way they used to.
“Why don’t we stand and wave to the people around us and begin our celebration,” he says.
Mask back on, the priest signals the congregation to sit. A young woman approaches the altar to read a passage from Isaiah from a smartphone.
As she moves to her seat, a baby begins to cry, a familiar sound in church that is amplified here by the acoustics of cement walls. A nun quickly wipes down the altar with disinfecting wipes.
As Father Mike began his sermon on humility and one’s role as “a rock,” helpers set up a portable screen on top of four plastic storage boxes. Short clips of students encouraging others to join small group discussions begins to play.
Instead of lining up during the Holy Eucharist, worshippers stay put. After pouring sanitizer on their hands, altar servers carry bowls to them, offering communion with stretched arms. Once servers move past them, those participating pull down their masks to place consecrated hosts in their mouths.
As the service ends, congregants collect their chairs and blankets and proceed to take stairs to their cars, waving to friends as they leave.
Not only those attending the Catholic Center service, which are recorded and posted online, are touched by what happens in the garage
“My wife and I were walking on the Duke Trail this morning.The music coming from your service was beautiful,” @CoachMinnick commented on one online video post. “The music and acoustics sounded as if we were in a cathedral.”
9th Street reporter Dryden Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
At top: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted so much, including the ability to host religious services in houses of worship. To adapt, Duke Catholic Center offers Mass in a campus parking garage on Sundays. Park on level 3, worshippers are told. And attend Mass on Level 4. Video by 9th Street Journal journalist Henry Haggart