Every night since April 1, at 7:14 p.m., the cars have been waiting in the Flagstaff Medical Center parking lot, their hazards reflecting in the windows.
They fill the lot gradually, pulling into open spots and flicking on their lights as worship music plays from a nearby speaker.
Like a school bell, the gathering signals the hospital’s 7 p.m. shift change as well as the start of something new — 46 minutes of prayers for the people inside the building and all those affected by COVID-19.
Of the people in the 50 to 60 vehicles that arrive each night to participate, some spend the time inside their vehicles, windows cracked slightly, while others sit on the hood or stand in the bed of their trucks, swaying to the beat of the music.
Though these individuals, couples and families gather even before 7 p.m., the collective prayer begins promptly at 7:14 to reflect what Pastor Daniel Williamson of Church for the Nations Flagstaff calls a particularly tender and relevant passage from the Bible:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14, New International Version.
“As a church, as a community of faith, we believe very strongly in prayer and we believe very strongly in the outcome,” Williamson said. “So we thought, rather than praying behind cameras on a Zoom meeting, let’s have a drive-up prayer meeting where we can all just flood the parking lot at FMC and turn our hazards on so that they would see the support.”
Every night Williamson and his wife set up a speaker and a microphone at the far end of the FMC West Campus parking lot, playing worship songs. Williamson begins the prayer session using the microphone, then lets the music play, returning about every 10 minutes to offer guidance, directing prayers to areas like healing or protection and to individuals throughout the region, including employees, patients and their families.
All the while, the car lights continue to flash. A helicopter flies overhead. A silhouette in a third-floor window gives a huge wave, their hand sweeping in wide arcs.
Though Church for the Nations started the nightly routine, the gathering is open to anyone from the community wanting to show support to hospital staff and patients. Members of other congregations and local groups have since joined in.
“In a situation that has a magnitude of this size, it’s going to take a whole community to rally together around one common concept of showing healthcare workers support, whether that’s through prayers, your thoughts or just coming and putting your hazards on,” Williamson said. “As long as it’s necessary, we’ll be up there every night.”
In addition to numerous messages of thankfulness shared via social media, Williamson recalled Sunday evening, when a doctor pulled up alongside where the pastor had set up his speakers, tears in their eyes as they thanked the group for being there on a particularly harsh day.
For Rebekah Short, a former FMC nurse and member of Church for the Nations, the experience has been especially powerful. Short worked at the hospital for 18 years and now teaches nursing at Northland Pioneer College’s Winslow campus. She and her husband — and occasionally their three children — have been in the parking lot every single night to support her former coworkers.
“I’ve known some of these people for 20 years and I went to nursing school with some of these people so they mean so very much to me and I’m not there helping them, so I still see it as I’m there helping them,” Short said.
Though Short said she has not been in a situation quite like the ones nurses are experiencing now, she can relate to losing a patient.
“Nurses are just hurting and they’re lonely in there. To lose a patient, it’s horrible. It’s the kind of day where you go home and you just cry. You can’t tell anybody about it, you can’t talk about it because of [privacy] laws, so you just cry,” Short said. “It was just so awful. The nurses are not just facing their own emotional crisis, they’re facing the patients’, so they sit there and they want to hold their hand, but they are facing so much death and it’s just overwhelming.
“I’m there to let them know they’re not alone. We care about them. We care about what they’re going through.”
She said she hopes the initiative can spread to other hospitals because she has heard from her former colleagues and students working at the hospital how much the seemingly small initiative means.
“If it means that much to them, then I’m totally in,” Short said. “I’ll be there every night.”
And every night, just like the clockwork of their arrival, as the prayers and music come to an end right at 8 p.m., the group spends a few moments honking and cheering for hospital staff to hear, before each vehicle disappears as quickly as it came, the encouragement lingering though the lights are gone.
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