What drive-in? The one in Burlington where the Roche Bros. plaza is today. You could drive in, hang a speaker in your window and watch James Bond. Or, if it happened to be Sunday, you could watch local minister Sidney King conducting Sunday service.
You’d see him on the big screen. You’d hear his sermon through those same speakers. Yes, E.M. Loew’s Route 128 Drive-In served a dual role as drive-in church during the day and theater at night.
A faction of the United Church of Christ, Congregational (The old white church near Simonds Park), broke off with Rev. King in the late 1950s to create a separate ministry. But it was homeless. First it borrowed the gym in the High School on Center Street, next to the current police station, but parishioners didn’t feel comfortable worshipping inside a school. It violated the “separation of church and state” principle, on par with learning geography inside a chapel.
The drive-in theater had a lot to offer. It had plenty of elbow room, as much as your car offered. It had those convenient little speakers that mounted on the cars, so you could hear soft-spoken Rev. King. You could eat. You could nap. You could dress poorly. Kids could make noise.
Burlington wasn’t the only town doing this. Orange, California did the same around the same time. “Come as you are in the family car.” That was the slogan for religious services at Orange County Drive-In. Here’s the fired-up Rev. Robert Schuller delivering his message while standing on the roof of the snack bar. Some say Rev. King did the same.
The drive-in ministry formula proved so successful that it became the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, CA, a massive pillar of the area. Burlington’s drive-in church worked out well too. It quickly raised enough money to build a permanent home on Center Street. Fellowship Bible Church at 71 Center Street was born.