Oliver Crosby calmly approached the woman in the green scrubs. The 10-year-old Conway boy had a request: he wanted to pray with her.
So there, in the parking lot outside Conway Medical Center, the elementary school child and the nurse-midwife bowed their heads. They knelt about six feet apart.
“I just wanted her to feel blessed,” Oliver said. “And to make sure that everybody knows, like in the hospital, that they shouldn’t be worried about the corona. They should just be praying for it.”
For about 90 minutes Friday night, people from across the Grand Strand did just that at CMC. They prayed for people with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. And they prayed for the nurses and doctors caring for those patients and others.
The informal gathering was organized by Cecily Hennigan, the teenage singer known for being a contestant on “The Voice” and a worship leader at The Rock church in Conway.
“I could literally cry,” Hennigan told the crowd as she surveyed the line of vehicles from the bed of a red pickup. “A week ago, there was three cars in this parking lot.”
The idea for a hospital prayer service came from one of Hennigan’s friends, who had seen a TikTok video of a similar event in another town. Her friend, who lives in Murrells Inlet, suggested they try that here. Hennigan agreed to set up at CMC and her friend chose a Tidelands medical facility for her service.
They made the decision a day before heading to the hospitals, so last week just a handful of people showed up to each location. But after a week of Facebook and Instagram promotion, dozens of cars pulled outside CMC’s front entrance Friday.
“People kept showing up,” Hennigan said. “It made me emotional because it just shows that there is a sense of community here. … It’s not like everyone was sectioned by denomination or by church name. Everyone was just here because of who God is. That just makes it even better.”
As Christian music blasted from the loudspeakers, some folks sang with eyes closed and arms stretched wide toward the hospital. Others whispered prayers from behind a steering wheel. A few danced amid the flickering hazard lights.
“[What] the hospital needs more than anything is prayer and the power of God,” said Katelyn Crowley, an esthetician from Socastee who brought her 3-year-old son Killian to the gathering. Before Crowley’s grandmother died two years ago, the elderly woman spent time at the hospital struggling with dementia. Many of her nurses came to the funeral. And Crowley's grandfather, who turns 90 this month, also received care there. She wanted to pray for the healthcare workers.
“If I can help in any way, I’m going to do it,” Crowley said. “Tell them we’re here supporting them.”
When the coronavirus pandemic began taking hold in the United States, 15-year-old Heavyn Shelley told her mother she wanted to pray at a hospital. Amy Shelley mentioned the idea to some of her friends, but not many were interested in joining them. Then someone tagged her in one of Hennigan’s Facebook posts. The Carolina Forest family made the trip Friday.
“I feel like it would touch people more if we came [to a hospital],” Heavyn Shelley said.
For her mother, who is a nursing student, praying was all she could do.
“It’s been kind of hard because I want to be in there and help but I can’t be,” Amy Shelley said. “Praying for them and for God to bring healing and revival.”
Miriam Brancato, a nurse from Murrells Inlet, had just finished a 12-hour shift at the nearby Lighthouse Behavioral Health Hospital. Rather than go home, she chose to sing.
“Wanted to stop and pray,” she said. “It’s important that God’s people get together and pray for healing for the sick and pray for strength and compassion and protection for the healthcare workers. … It’s an amazing encouragement to see these people out here united in one purpose.”
Toward the end of the service, some hospital staff in masks and shields fanned out across the CMC terrace to wave, capture the moment with their cell phones and blow kisses to the worshippers.
For the faithful, the moment gave them something they’ve craved for weeks — the chance to worship around other people. With sanctuaries shuttered, Sunday services moved to online platforms and a world of people trying to stay at least six feet apart, the closest thing to church was prayer in a parking lot.
“Just a reminder of how God brings us together,” said Tiffany Fowler, a nurse-midwife from Tabor City, North Carolina, who walked outside the hospital to sway with the praise songs. “It’s amazing to me how God’s people still follow his will. Even though we can’t worship and we can’t come together, they found a way to social distance and worship all at the same time.”
Fowler is the nurse who met Oliver, the boy who wanted to pray with her — and for her.
“We come to work to do our jobs,” she said. “We don’t think of it as anything to be put on a pedestal. It’s pretty humbling to think that people are thinking about us during this time.”