Juggling Hope and Fear: St. Louis Church Hosts Drive-In Circus
By Rachel Eldridge
When Pastor Brandon Hunter and his elder team prayed for God’s guidance during COVID-19, they did not expect it to lead to professional acrobats, trapeze artists, and clowns in their church parking lot! But through openness to unexpected opportunities, intense planning, and a last-minute miracle, that is exactly what happened. At the end of September, South Side Church of God hosted the first drive-in circus in St. Louis, Missouri, history.
“By no means were we looking to host a circus,” Pastor Brandon said. Instead, he and his church were “merely remaining open to whatever the Holy Spirit brought [their] way.” He continues, “As we prayed, God directed us with these words: ‘Don’t try to be like everyone else. Be who I made you to be.’” Not long after, one of the elders introduced him to Jamie Zayas, head of local performance troupe Kinetic Tapestry.
Jamie is a devout Christian and circus performer who had been out of work for five months due to the pandemic. If he found a venue to host a safe, socially distanced circus, it would let his fellow performers get back to earning money. South Side Church of God had a parking lot and a willingness to provide hope in difficult times.
So, Jamie and Pastor Brandon set to work planning a circus, following all health and safety protocols. Then, “after about five weeks of intense planning and organizing stages, sound systems, volunteers, and performers, the St. Louis County Department of Health hit us with a bombshell,” Pastor Brandon said. “All outdoor events would now need to be approved by the county directly, and done so thirty days in advance. At this point, our event was less than ten days away.”
Flyers for the circus had already been printed, radio stations were already promoting it, and interest in the event was growing rapidly on social media. Potentially canceling it seemed impossible, yet the church respected the guidance of community authorities. At a loss for what to do, Pastor Brandon called the health department and submitted the necessary paperwork. Meanwhile, South Side Church of God kept praying.
“We prayed that the Lord would go before us and prepare a way and, by nothing short of a miracle, Jesus did exactly that,” Pastor Brandon said. “Within seven days, we received approval from the county offices—something totally unheard of, even before the days of COVID.”
Altogether, over a thousand people attended the four performances of ESPERO, the free drive-in circus at South Side Church of God. Donations collected at each show covered the cost of the production, bringing hope to the performers. The talents of the stilt-walkers, aerial artists, clowns, and other performers brought much joy and laughter to the crowd. At the end of every show, the gospel of Jesus Christ was shared from the stage. Plus, the events at South Side went so well that Kinetic Tapestry went on to do encore performances of ESPERO at other churches.
“You couldn’t have written a better story if you tried,” Pastor Brandon said. “The weather was absolutely perfect, no one got sick, and Jesus was given all of the glory.”
Rachel Eldridge is a freelance writer who takes frequent walks to avoid Zoom burnout. She attends First Church of God in New Albany, Indiana.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.