First came drive-in movies. Then drive-through fast food. Now get ready for drive-through prayer. Reaching out to people reluctant to step inside a church, Word of Faith Family Worship Center offers comfort to drivers who needn't leave their cars.

The year-old nondenominational church moved into a former NationsBank building in September.

Before the move, Word of Faith held services at a Holiday Inn in Suffolk. But pastor Clarence C. Sykes and Starr Fletcher-Sykes, his wife and co-pastor, realized the church needed a permanent home.

The vacant bank building was perfect, and the price was right. But could a church find a use for a drive-through window?

Because the church rents the building, the bank's fixtures could not be removed. They could be modified, however, and drive-through prayer was born.

"There are a lot of people who travel this street who won't go into an established church," Sykes said. "For one reason or another, they've been turned off, and this gives them an opportunity to 'drive through' and have someone pray with them until they feel comfortable to come inside."

Volunteers help the Sykeses at the window, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. They pass their waiting time by reading the Bible and preparing responses to prayer requests.

Much of the bank's architecture has been recycled for worship space. The altar has replaced cubicles. A small "FDIC" sign still hangs from a teller's window, but the area behind is now a classroom, library and small gift shop.

"We realized when the building was used as a bank, people made deposits. Now it's being used as a church, and we're able to make a spiritual deposit into people," Sykes said.

While drive-through service makes Word of Faith a stand-out, Sykes is hoping the church's other actions will make a longer-lasting impression.

The Sykeses open the building to youths and the homeless during the winter and provide food and clothing when needed. Word of Faith also has several outreach programs, including its Alabaster Box discussion group for abused and troubled women. The congregation also goes into the community to offer prayer.

"God called us to go where the people are, and that means going to the basketball courts and football fields and the streets," Fletcher- Sykes said.

Still, it's the "open" sign in the church's drive-through window that attracts motorists.

"We see people slow down to read the sign or sometimes drive through" to see if anyone is there. Sykes said. "We greet them and let them know we're here for whatever prayer request they have. We don't ask for anything. In fact, we're giving away."

So far, a handful of people have sought blessings, while others donated supplies through the window. The drive-through is only 2 months old, so prayer "tellers" are hoping for more business as word gets out.

"Business is starting to pick up," said Patricia Alston, a Word of Faith member and drive-through volunteer. "We don't know when they'll come, but we're ready."

Alston already has helped one visitor return to church, and several others have said they will come back. She credits the personal, anonymous touch of the drive-through for bringing them to God.

"It's powerful," she said. "People thought we were playing, but we're not."

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