Monday, February 2, 2009

Doing Church in Extreme Weather

About five years ago, a larger than average snow fell across the bluegrass. We don't get much snow in Louisville, and when we get more than a flurry, things tend to shut down. This snow fell on a Saturday--a priest's nightmare.

There are two schools of thought about doing church in extreme weather: (1) cancel services--someone will get hurt trying to get to church or (2) never cancel a service--people need church, no less so in extreme weather.

I do not naturally subscribe to either school. I worry about someone getting hurt, but usually have services anyway.

Such was the case five years ago. My daughter and I arrived early for the early service. The telephone was ringing as we came through the door. "Yes we are having services for those who are able to get here." "No, I am not going to cancel services. If you don't feel safe getting here, please stay home." "Well, I'm here. So, I figure I will have services with whoever else gets here." And so on and so forth.

As I got ready for the early service, my then nine year old daughter took over telephone duty. My daughter, having heard me answer the same question a dozen times, did a fine job with the--"Yes, we are having services, but stay home where it is safe" message I was preaching. But there is no pleasing everyone. One telephone caller (a seventy year old female that ought to have known better), told her to "Tell you father he is stupid! No one should be having church in this weather!"

My daughter hung up the phone and wrote me the following message in typical nine year old handwriting. "Dad, crazy woman called, said you where stupid, didn't leave a number."

I wish i had saved the message.

Several winters later, a similar storm hit town on a Saturday. This time, however, the snow was so heavy, I couldn't get the walkways cleared in time for the regularly scheduled services. No path from the parking lot to any door was available. I telephoned the TV stations and let them know I was canceling services. I called everyone I could think of that might need to know, naturally I forgot several. But then again, the local TV stations and radio stations were helping get the word out.

This time it was a male, buying a snow shovel at a hardware store, ranting and raving about my having canceled services. The "check out girl" was also a parishioner. She told me "He said you were stupid for canceling Church services. "I thought I should let you know, since most of the people in the store heard all about it."

All this brings me to my decision to have services in the after math of our last winter storm a couple of weeks ago. Ice had left much of the city cold and dark. The parish buildings were no exception. The rectory, however, was an exception. Several parishioners who were powerless found their way over to the rectory. We had a slumber party of sorts. The kids had a blast. I moved the parish office over to the rectory so we could get out the parish newsletter on time. I slipped on the ice a couple of times, once sacrifcing my body to save a computer monitor I was transplanting to its temporary home in my dinning room.

Worship services, however, were a different matter. I told everyone that called to go to the Cathedral for services--they had heat and lights, but that "yes, I would be holding services for anyone who showed up at St. Mark's." A few did actually show up. There was a bit of shivering and we all looked kinda silly all bundled up like polar explorers. I was actually pretty comfortable under all the layers of vestments we priests wear for Holy Eucharist services.

I knew the woman who thought I was stupid for having services would not be there. She transfered to another parish a couple of years ago. Presumably the priest of that parish has enough sense to know when to cancel worship services.

I was, however, a little surprised when the gentleman who called me stupid for not having services didn't show. Turns out he stayed home. I'm betting he figured that only a really stupid priest would hold services in the cold and the dark.

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