Here, have a hexagon

St. Mark's temporary church Burlington MA

This is the beginning of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Terrace Hall Ave. in 1960. It’s a pre-fab that was trucked in pieces from Acton to Burlington. St. Mark’s used this little hexagon as its temporary house of worship until its permanent church was finished on the same property. If this little building resembles the one next to Temple Shalom Emeth on Lexington Street, that’s because it’s the same building. In 1970, with its permanent church complete, St. Mark’s heard a Jewish congregation was targeting this piece of property on Lexington Street for a home of its own . . .

Temple Shalom Emeth, Burlingon, MA

. . . and in a gesture of cross-denominational good will, gave the hexagon away. So the Temple took it apart, trucked up the hill to Lexington Street, and used it as its own temporary house of worship while its official one was under construction. Echo Enrichment Center is now using it.

Temple Shalom Emeth, 16 Lexington Street, Burlington MA

Birth of the Presbyterian Church

Steve Douse of Independence Drive, class of ’75, has childhood memories of climbing into the wall cavities of the unfinished Presbyterian Church at 335 Cambridge St. The speakers weren’t installed yet. “Though I would have tried climbing in even after the speaker installation if possible.”

That’s Steve on the left in the group photo. His sister Sharon and his father, Richard G. Douse, are on the right. Richard was the founding minister of the Burlington location. He ran it from 1960 to 1977. He died Sept. 28.

The rakish gable of the church was considered “ultra-modern” at the time. While the building came together in 1960, the local Presbytery used Wildwood School (now a park by the same name) for Sunday service. Photo credits: Steve Douse.

Late ’60s parade float.

Now playing at the drive-in: Sunday church service

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.

128 Drive-in entrance, Burlington, MA 1956

Looks like nobody was injured except the marquee.

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.

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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.

 

Fellowship Bible Church, Burlington MA