Tennessee Gov. Lee attends, speaks at mass 'drive-in' Sunday church service

FILE - In this March 16, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions concerning the state's response to the coronavirus during a news conference in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee abortion providers are asking a federal judge to order that abortions can go forward despite an executive order from Gov. Lee aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Their lawyers argue in a motion filed on Monday, April 13, 2020, that Lee's order blocking “nonemergency healthcare procedures” should not apply to abortions. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee attended and spoke at a mass drive-in church service on Sunday near his home in Franklin, a Nashville television station reported over the weekend.

The "Beyond Our Walls" event was hosted by Lee's home church, Grace Chapel, WZTV reported.

More than 1,000 members of 15 churches participated in the event held at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center, according to the news report.

Those attending mostly remained in their vehicles and listened to sermons and music. Lee stood on stage and thanked attendees "for everything you're doing" during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"Thank you for everything that every one of you are doing," the Republican governor said in the WZTV video. "Thank you for doing your part to stay apart. Thank you for loving your neighbors as yourself. Thank you for serving in food banks, and thank you for serving in nonprofits. And thank you for serving in your neighborhoods."

The "do your part, stay apart" phrase has become Lee's mantra and part of a state advertising campaign encouraging Tennesseans to engage in social distancing to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Some churches in the Chattanooga area have resumed holding services in their sanctuaries but largely observe social distancing, the Times Free Press reported. The governor on Friday announced he was dropping the current ban on in-restaurant service beginning Monday, with restaurants able to operate at half capacity. That will be extended to retail businesses on Wednesday.

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold told the Times Free Press on Monday the "drive-in service was hosted by his home church so he participated in the service as a parishioner worshipping on Sunday.

"We've consistently advocated for houses of worship to embrace alternate methods like streaming and drive-in services as a way to stay engaged while maintaining social distance," Arnold added.

She said Lee's welcoming comments "were impromptu. He thanked Tennesseans for their prayers, serving each other, and for embracing new ways to worship."

Lee's church, headed by Steve Berger, is a conservative, nondenominational congregation that is part of a network of independent charismatic churches.

Earlier this month, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke issued a stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus that barred drive-in religious services. A church sued and Berke later dropped the prohibition.

Back in March, Lee publicly chided pastors urging large numbers of people to attend services inside their churches.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.