Friday, July 22, 2005


Showtime under the stars Drive-in behind Evangelical Friends ...

Ann Arbor News/Ann Arbor/MI/USA/18-Jul-05

… The conversion of a baseball diamond into a drive-in movie theater behind the Evangelical Friends Church is becoming a Friday night hit, scoring with families seeking wholesome entertainment with a little nostalgia thrown in.

Larry Elie, a member of the church on the corner of Tuttle Hill and Bemis roads, presented the idea more than four years ago to a receptive congregation. With each year the screen, erected over the baseball backstop, has gotten larger and the sound system and projector more refined to show new DVD releases. Elie said last summer the average attendance was about 120 people a week, but the field can accommodate up to 135 vehicles. He said the drive-in draws a variety of viewers.

"We have visitors from the KOA campground, youth groups from other churches - it's become a fun place to be,'' Elie said. "We're not doing a Top of the Park event, but we're trying to be a nice place to bring the family and unwind.''

The church received donations to buy the projector and other equipment to host the Friday event, which starts when the sun goes down. There is no admission fee and Elie said the biggest investment is people power. It takes almost two dozen volunteers to erect the screen, place the directional signs, string rope lighting for safety, set up the sound equipment and then make and bag the free popcorn.

On a recent Friday night this month, the evening opened with Veggie Tales, a computer animation short with a biblical message, followed by cartoons and then the first of two movies. Before the first feature, Ed Malick, a member of the church, grabbed a bucket of water and squeegee to clean windshields to give visitors a bug-free view.

Nearby in the church parking lot, his wife, Gail, was helping direct traffic.

"This is really cool,'' she said of the drive-in movie idea. "The best part is our whole family can be involved and minister together.''

Hilda Ciaramitaro of Augusta Township picked up a flier promoting the drive-in at the Ypsilanti Independence Day parade. She came for several reasons.

"This is a really nice thing to do,'' Ciaramitaro said from the comfort of her vehicle. "There's no cost, and they are nice movies for the kids to see - there's no violence.''

For those who want the open-air experience, there are bleachers set up around the pitcher's mound with a set of speakers at home plate to project the dialogue. Those inside their cars can tune to a radio frequency to pick up the audio. ... Doug Burch, pastor of Evangelical Friends Church, said the congregation got behind the idea and committed to make the weekly event happen. He said the reaction to the throwback style of movie viewing has been good.

"We've heard really positive feedback,'' Burch said. "People think it's a really great idea, and for some it might be the first connection they have to the church.''

Elmer Sheldon of Ypsilanti was one of those who gained exposure to the church through the movie ministry. He came for the first time last year to the movies and now attends both the church and the movies.


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