Saturday, January 8, 2011

What is our policy on canceling church?

I looked our my window just now only to see a dusting of snow and I know that there are already people who are thinking... "Hmmmm, I guess we won't be going to church tomorrow."   It is funny how big a $20 seems when you drop it in the plate and how bad the weather looks when you really do not want to go somewhere.  Newer folks wonder if we contact the news channels to let them know we will not be holding church today or if there is a system of letting people know if worship or events will go one even when the weather seems, well, iffy.

I have been a Pastor for more than 30 years and have never canceled a worship service.  I have always been able to make it and some have also found a way to be there -- in ice and snow as well as other weather conditions. I was asked once why our congregation does NOT have a cancellation policy.  Well, first of all, we are not in the snow belt so we seldom have real snowfall -- some dustings of snow are common and sleet and even ice somewhat common but hardly ever do we get a real full-fledged blizzard.  Now you would not know this since the congregations of my community routinely close for almost any threat of bad weather.  The school system closes when the weather report suggests the prospect of bad weather.  But we do not close.  We ask our folks to use their best judgment and we promise them that if they get to the Church, the worship of the congregation will be going on as scheduled.

The funny thing is that I have often found Wal-Mart packed, Kroger a buzz with people, and even a ton of cars in the parking lot of the Mall -- on those days when ice or snow has created a "weather advisory."  Now, far be it from me to tell folks when to drive and when not to, but it does raise a question of why certain weather conditions automatically make you wonder about whether or not church should be held yet you would venture out in the same weather to go to work, head out shopping, or make it to the movie theater.  BTW the movie theater never cancels or closes, either.

I know that what we do here is not always transportable to other parts of the country.  Our weather conditions are not the same.  It worked in the Catskill Mountains of New York, however.  On one Christmas morning when I was sure that we had received enough snow to discourage folks from coming to church, I was sitting in the living room drinking my coffee in my bathrobe while our kids were playing with their toys and looked out the rectory window only to see a car full of church folks plow through the snow on their way to church.  We rushed to get ready and make our way up the long lane to the church building and I think we had a dozen or two folks who felt that Christmas Day they should be in God's House.  I laugh at myself for being a doubter on that occasion instead of a true believer.

We need more folks who are true believers in the priority of worship.  Not every little sniffle, cough, or ache should be used as an excuse for NOT being together in the Lord's house.  Neither should we look out the window in the morning for a weather related reason to justify our desire to stay at home.  Now it is true that not everyone will make the same decision in circumstances of health or weather that is not optimal, but that is okay.  As long as our hearts burn to be together in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day, around the :Lord's Word and the Lord's Table... for this is where we find the source and the summit of our Christian lives -- together as a congregation and individually as God's People.


Anonymous said...

A parish has a real stewardship
problem if parish members are
dropping $20 bills in the offering
plate. First fruits giving would
imply that we give to the Lord a
generous portion of our income not
the leftovers. Good stewards of God's gifts will be writing generous
checks that indicate that Christ is
their top priority in life.

HappyFox said...

Hear, hear, Pastor Peters!


Unknown said...

Once since I have been at Trinity has worship been cancelled because of weather. It was Ash Wednesday about three years ago. I live a fair distance from the church and made it, barely, for the morning service. The roads were just choked and nothing was moving so we had to cancel as did all but one church in the Rockford area, which was right downtown and got plowed quickly. We do have a cancellation policy in place now, but it has not been used for canceling worship since.

This last big snow people were calling and asking if we were going to have worship. My answer was, "If the Bears have to cancel their game in Chicago because of the weather then so will we. Otherwise, if people can travel to watch football then they can get to church."

Anonymous said...

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” When people are glad to come to the house of the Lord, they will come, snow or no snow. When it is an unpleasant chore or obligation, they will look for any excuse not to. How do those who view going to church as an obligation become glad to go to the house of the Lord?

For me the change took place when I was around twenty years old. I was going through a crisis of faith, during which I began to seriously doubt that I was a “real” Christian, and that God actually looked on me with favor. A pastor and professor, who had the gift of understanding the Gospel as being God’s unconditional commitment to His baptized children, touched my heart with his preaching. The Gospel, understood without the need to become perfect, understood as “Cheap Grace” for which our Lord paid an infinitely high price, created a desire in me to come to church. Because this pastor also understood and preached about the historical liturgy as an expression of the Gospel, I began to find joy and renewal in worship even when the sermon was less than extraordinary. This joy when coming to the house of the Lord has not left me in more than fifty years since then.

If there is any value in my experience, then the answer to the problem is the proclamation of the Gospel without conditions, and the explanation of the liturgy in terms of the Gospel – God’s gift to His people, not the legal obligation to do what our predecessors have done. It is probably possible to bring people to church by other means, but is it worth it?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I used to think the same way, but two things happened, the first was one of my members rolled his 4x4 pickup bringing his kids to Sunday school, the other was serving a dual parish where one congregation was 30 miles away. Go make a visit to someone who is in the hospital because they got hurt on the way there because of the road conditions, hop in the car and drive the same distance your members have to drive and see if it changes your attitude a bit. Of course, people can roll their cars going to work on monday as well, but its rather hard to tell yourself that when it happens on sunday morning. Sometimes its hard to tell the difference between one’s piety and one’s pride. I also have to take into consideration the other people who have to be in church as well, elders, organists, teachers. Certainly one can have a worship service without the usual accompaniment and assistance, more power to you. I’ve done that too, and since I was single at the time that meant I got to spend a bit of personal time in the church on Sunday morning; nope didn’t cancel-not that it mattered all that much. To be sure, one expects that the members of your church have the God given good sense to stay home if the conditions where they are do not permit, but the pastor has to have the same good sense. Where I used to serve virtually everyone had an SUV or a FWD pickup, and most were up by 6AM to feed livestock regardless of the weather. But there’s a big difference between driving a 15 ton four wheel drive tractor in a feedlot and driving a Suburban on an icy drifted shut road with minimal visibility. One is difficult the other is deadly. Last year we cancelled Christmas Day services, the visibility was poor, we had a five foot high drift blocking the front door that blew shut within minutes. Many of our members who live in the country weren’t able to get off their farmsteads for nearly a week, others went without electricity for about as many days. I didn't like that cancellation but in retrospect it was the right call. Of course there will always be someone out and about in the worst conditions just to see if they can do it; I know, I used to be that guy too (albeit 30+ years ago). There will always be people going surfing just be for the hurricane hits too.
We don't want to cancel very often, but when we do it should be out of consideration for the saftey of others.

Anonymous said...

We couldn't use the church right after the hurricane, but the pastors still showed up and had a service outside. We didn't go because we were pretty sure we would not be able to get there, but we heard about it.

Randy Bosch said...

Snow? Several years ago, a "mainstream" congregation in our town canceled Easter Sunday service because it fell within the school system's 2-week Spring Break, and they reasoned that no-one would be in town.

Snow is less of an impediment than priorities of vacation, soccer practice or football.
Let it snow, let it snow...!!!

Anonymous said...

On my vicarage in Fergus Falls. MN,
I lost my car in a snow storm on
the way home from an evening Lenten
Service in February. My supervisor
did not call off the service. He was
the liturgist and I was the preacher.
My wife and I got out of the car and
had to walk to a farm house for
shelter. Later we found out we had
frostbite on our face and ears. The
car was a total loss and the church
council gave me no renumeration for
the car because they felt it was in
line of duty.

My first call was to central MN and
several Sunday Advent services were
canceled because of snow storms and
I did want anyone to be a victim of
a Minnesota snow storm.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Oops, sorry about the double post folks.

Pastor Peters said...

Some apparently took my comments a little too personally. I live in a place where bad weather is not the same issue as Minnesota or wherever else in the snow belt. I was not making a boast but simply making a statement. We do not cancel Church. Use your best judgment on whether you will head there. I think this is fair and resonable (where I live, anyway). I have had several individuals have car accidents (some bad) on their to or from church functions -- when the road was fine. My parish has folks from more than an hour's drive, in different states, and some 400 households. It would be nearly impossible for me to contact them and tell them "Do not come." Use your best judgment is my best advice. Maybe in Fargo, I might have to adjust my thinking but not in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Unknown said...

A few things:

1. I probably travel further than 98% of my parishioners because I live in a different town so I have a pretty good idea of the roads. Six years with the Arizona Highway Patrol makes me a pretty good judge of road conditions. Plus, I drive a Honda Fit; if it can get through, any vehicle can.

2. I realize that some elderly parishioners and those on dirt roads have greater issues and I do encourage them to stay home. Our organist is one of them so we sing acapella.

3. I never chide someone who cannot get to the church because of the weather; however, I think it is vitally important that the worship life of the church continues if at all possible.

4. When you see determined people with snowmobiles and four-wheel drive pick-ups pulling into the local bar, it is pretty obvious that a great many of us are more adept at safely overcoming the weather when we want to be.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

My personal appology if my comments were too personal toward you Pastor Peters. I did not take your comments as boastful, but it looks like mine were.

PS, I write this as the first 2 inches of an expected 6 have fallen on my beloved home-no we won't cancel church today!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I likewise do not cancel service - but I also tell people to use their sanctified common sense as to whether or not they can make it - I have even told my elderly that if they try to attend during an ice storm I will be quite cross with them (if they miss a service, they'll get the bulletin and sermon mailed to them).

But if I can get there safely, and someone else can, we will have service. As I live next door to the Church, I can generally get there.

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Amen. God's doors are always open. I think the Anglicans beat us on this one.

John said...

My wife and I are elderly residents of Minnesota. We can count on one hand the number of Sunday services we have missed, other than vacation in the past ten years. We have missed four Sunday services in the past 2 1/2 months simply due to the fact that we could not get out of our own garage and into the cleared alley in order to get to our church, which is only about two miles away. Our congregation posts each Sunday's sermon on its website. We've not missed a single Sunday's sermon. While we aren't able to partake of the congregation's weekly observance of The Lord's Supper, we are able to drench ourselves in the Means of Grace through the posted sermon and use of Treasury of Daily Prayer, The Lutheran Service Book and LSB Propers of the Day. Another point: When I was a boy, the pastor and his family usually lived in the parsonage which was located on or near the church property. Many pastors, today either live many miles from their congregation, or they travel many miles between multiple congregations, each Sunday. I would say this: In the event that the authorities in your area have publicly announced that folks ahould stay off the roads, congregations should cancel services. This would ease the consciences of the members, and would allow the public to clear the roads unhindered by stranded vehicles, thus rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesars.

Unknown said...

Just ran across the post. Some things do not change i guess...It amazes me at age 66 and being in church since a hear members say things like "oh, we have to stand when persecution hits the church!"...My question is "are these the same people who stay home at the first snow flake"??? Lord help us!!