TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Without attending a service at Tucson's drive-in church, it would be hard to know that a sense of community embraces a visitor, even from inside a car.
``You would think, standing there in the pulpit, looking at windshields, there would be a disconnect, but it's surprisingly intimate,'' said Pastor Kevin Prahar, who started leading services at the church in 2004.
People wave at newcomers, while others get out of their cars to say hello to friends parked in parallel rows.
Everyone gets a friendly greeting from Glen and Helen McGinnis when they drive in. The couple hands each driver the day's program and communion materials, one of many positions they've volunteered for during 40 years with the church.
``We like this drive-in church; it keeps us going,'' Helen McGinnis said after the 8 a.m. service. ``We like to worship outside.''
On Sunday, Mother Nature reminded churchgoers they were outside with a light sprinkle of rain as birds chirped wildly. Later, the sun broke through the clouds and neighborhood dogs barked while a few pastors recalled the days when they led the outside service.
Those everyday experiences are part of the charm the regulars enjoy.
The cars line up to face a small building just big enough to hold the pulpit, an organ and a few chairs.
It was built 40 years ago by John E. Coatsworth, who thought Tucson needed a drive-in church like the ones he read about in California and Florida.
So, after visiting one of the Florida drive-ins, he brought the idea to life in Tucson.
The first drive-in service was held at the Rodeo Park Drive-in in 1963. Soon afterward, Coatsworth and his sons, Bill and David, built the foundation and later the building that would serve as the focal point of the Sunday drive-in services.
The first drive-in service at Park Avenue Christian Church was Oct. 23, 1966.
The Rev. John Smith was pastor at the drive-in in 1997. He said it was awkward at first standing at the pulpit for service and not getting a response.
``I encouraged people to blink their lights and honk their horn,'' he said.
He only got one honk during his sermons that year, and he wasn't sure if the driver was indicating ``amen'' or ``you've got to be kidding,'' Smith said.
The crowd responded to his story on Sunday with a series of honks, to which Smith gave a wide smile and an appreciative laugh.
In 40 years, the Sunday morning drive-in service has been canceled only once, said Prahar, the current pastor. Someone stole the audio equipment (which works like a drive-in movie system), so the service was held inside the main Park Avenue Christian Church building that week.
Now equipment isn't even necessary, though some still use it. Since last year, services also are broadcast on FM radio at 89.5, which means churchgoers don't even have to open their car windows if they don't want to.
Three dogs regularly attend the service, and people don't have to worry about dressing up to attend church when they stay in their car the whole time, said Cindy Coatsworth Lewis, one of John Coatsworth's daughters.
That casualness is echoed in the service's slogan: ``Come as you are, worship in your car.''
Investigation opens on priest who provided details of past sexual encounters
ROME (AP)- A Roman Catholic diocese has opened an investigation of a priest who said he fondled and shared saunas while naked with Mark Foley when the former U.S. congressman was a boy in Florida.
In interviews in the past two days, the Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 69, who is now with a diocese on an island off Malta, has given different details about his encounters with Foley four decades ago.
On Wednesday, he told the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune by telephone that he massaged the boy in the nude, was naked in the same room on overnight trips with him and had gone skinny dipping with him. On Thursday, he told The Associated Press that he was naked in a sauna with Foley.
Also Thursday, he told WPTV of West Palm Beach, Fla., that he touched Foley ``once, maybe.''
In all of the interviews, he denied having sexual intercourse with Foley.
Former priest reaches plea deal on sexual abuse charges
PHOENIX (AP) _ A former Catholic priest being tried on charges that he sexually abused a teen more than 20 years ago reached a plea deal with prosecutors Tuesday.
Joseph Briceno pleaded guilty to two felony counts of sexual conduct with a minor and faces up to 1.8 years in prison on the first count and three years probation on the second count, said William FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. He also will have to register as a sex offender.
The county attorney agreed to dismiss four other counts of sexual conduct with a minor, one count of attempted sexual contact and one count of sexual abuse.
The incidents happened in 1982 and 1983.
The deal ended a trial which began last week. The abuse came to light in the early 1990s when the victim approached the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to complain. He and his family eventually were paid a $15,000 settlement.
Briceno, 60, was one of seven priests indicted in Maricopa County in 2003 on sex abuse charges. He was captured in Mexico in December and has been jailed since.