Bowie priest offering drive-thru confessions amid calls for social distancing

Most churches around the D.C. region are closed due to bans on large group gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But one priest in Prince George’s County, Maryland, found a creative way to reach his flock despite calls for social distancing.

Father Scott Holmer of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Bowie is not even on social media, but he has gone viral.

Holmer was inspired by stories about drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in South Korea, and he decided to offer the sacrament of penance in a similar way.

“So, I was trying to think about what to do,” Holmer said. “Maybe if we had drive-thru confessions, that’ll do the trick.”

Every day since Saturday, Holmer has spent at least an hour in the parking lot of the church. On Sunday mornings, he would be out longer, as that is when he would normally be saying mass.

However, it’s only since the picture of him giving drive-thru confessions started going viral that he started seeing more traffic through the parking lot.

Holmer said it has brought him some joy at a time when he is physically more distant than ever from his parishioners.

“It used to be all my thought was about how do I keep the roof from leaking, how do I keep the air conditioning from breaking, and all these things about facilities and maintenance,” Holmer said. “Now, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

He said it is pretty powerful when people pull up in the line, and “some are even getting teary because they’re so joyful that the church, even though we can’t have mass anymore, the priest can still be present to them.”

Holmer even went the extra mile to have a blindfold with him, since he can’t set up a screen in the parking lot. Typically, confessions are heard with some degree of anonymity, although that is not required.

A seminarian helping him out signals to him whether the driver wants to be anonymous or not. It  has not happened yet, but Holmer said he will maintain the option should it be requested.

“It’s been edifying when I sit in the parking lot and people drive by Mitchellville Road, and they honk their horns, and they wave, and they’re just glad to see the priest is doing something,” Holmer said.

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