Marvis Burke closes her eyes as she prays with Jena Burgin and Mark Burgin (not pictured) from inside her vehicle at Tyner United Methodist Church. Once a month, the church is offering Drive-Thru Prayer in morning and evening sessions.

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Drive-Thru Prayer: Hurting people pull up, Tyner UMC tries to ease the pain

The woman sits in her black SUV, driver's and the passenger's windows rolled down.

Charlie Harrison, in his orange shirt, rests his hands on the edge of the driver's window, calmly talking to her. On the other side, Kandi Hutton, a bulky ankle brace on her left leg, stands at the passenger window, listening.

The woman, who remains in her car, explains that she has just learned she has cancer; she desperately needs prayers to sooth her trembling soul.

Harrison and Hutton oblige, bowing their heads with her as she sits near the front doors of Tyner United Methodist Church, where Harrison is pastor.

On Tuesday afternoon, she is the second person to pull into Drive-Thru Prayer at Tyner, an event that has taken place on the first Tuesday of each month since September. Offered from 7:30-9:30 a.m. and again from 4:30-6:30 p.m., it hopes to get people who are going or coming from work.

The ultimate goal is to help people who are in crisis, confused or hurting badly and need some support, not to pass judgment or lecture.

"We don't put people on the spot," Harrison says. "You want them to be comfortable and share with you what their need is."

Those needs range from skirmishes between family members to life-threatening health issues to dealing with life's tragedies. One woman, for instance, needed prayers because she'd just learned that a friend had committed suicide.

The event is advertised only by signs planted around the church on the day it Drive-Thru Prayer takes place and by Tyner members holding signs at the church's entrances. Often, members say, drivers turn in on the spur of the moment, then say, "I don't know why I pulled in here." But everyone who shows up has some underlying need for prayer.

"There's no set program. We do this on faith," says Tyner member Mark Burgin, who first brought the idea of Drive-Thru Prayer to the church. "God gives you the mindset to do something in his name. This is not a Mark thing; this is not a Tyner thing; we're just led by God."

Burgin says he once saw a similar service at a Middle Valley church, but he has never seen it again in the Chattanooga area. After recently coming across a Drive-Thru Prayer while traveling for work in Dallas, Texas, he began researching the program and discovered that churches in many other states had similar ones. A quick Google search turns them up in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Texas and South Dakota, among other states.

The idea of Drive-Thru was warmly welcomed by both Harrison and the congregation, Burgin says.

"I'm for any way that our church can reach out to the community and be a help to it," Harrison says.

Church members, including Harrison and Burgin, insist that Drive-Thru Prayer is not an attempt to increase the size of Tyner's congregation.

"We're not so much interested in numbers as we are in the needs they bring to us," says Tyner member Alberta Keylon, who has participated in Drive-Thru Prayer each month since it started.

So far, the number of drivers has been encouraging. The first week the session was held in September, a total of close to 30 people came through when adding up the morning and evening sessions, Burgin says. In October, it was about 20 and a little less than that on Tuesday.

The actual times of the sessions may change to attract more people, Burgin says. "Since we're still in our infancy, we're tweaking it," he says.

But the services have been successful enough that Harrison and Burgin are hosting a training session on Saturday, Nov. 12, to teach other Methodist churches the ins and outs of setting up a Drive-Thru Prayer.

And prayers don't end when the drivers pull away. The first name of those seeking prayers is written down — not their last name — and church members continue to pray for the person in the days and weeks after, Burgin says.

In addition, ladies at the church have crocheted small squares with a cross in the center — "Prayer Squares" — which are given to everyone who comes through to help them with their prayers at home.

Having taken part in each month's Drive-Thru Prayer, Hutton says she has been surprised by the level of pain that people are experiencing.

"There are so many people that are hurting over so many things just life in general," she says.

Contact Shawn Ryan at or 423-757-6327.