On snow closings ... and the idiots who call them
The Rev. Jason Poling is the pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.
A church service was held at New Hope on Sunday morning. This would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that it wasn't supposed to happen.
As the weather predictions grew more and more alarming on Saturday night, I tore myself away from the "A Christmas Story" marathon on TBS to email some of our leaders to get their thoughts on whether we should call off services the next morning. The response among those close to email was unanimous, and I figured we'd get ahead of things and call it early.
For a lot of us with young kids, Saturday night can look a lot different if you're not planning to get up in time to get everybody off to church in the morning -- all the more so if you're serving and need to show up early. So I sent out the email, changed the website, changed the phone message and alerted the media. I knew I'd have to figure out how to combine two sermons into one, but I decided to put off thinking about that and enjoy the evening with family.
Come Sunday morning I was nestled all snug in my bed, imagining a winter wonderland outside but not bothering to confirm it by opening the blinds. Bad move. Around ten -- when our service usually starts -- my parents came to say goodbye and mentioned that the weather outside was anything but frightful.
Meanwhile, seven or eight folks had shown up for church.
Apparently they had a rich time of worship. One of them got on the organ and led from the hymnal, another led prayer, another preached a sermon impromptu on our text for the day. (One called me to make sure I was all right.) They did their best to work through an urn of coffee and 4 dozen donuts.
I take several lessons from this.
1. Authentic worship is not dependent upon the minister. There are good reasons to have clergy with credentials, salaries, robes and such. But if every pastor suddenly disappeared this week God's people would still manage faithfully to worship him.
2. Authentic worship is not dependent upon a prepared worship service. Again, there are good reasons to designate people to lead worship, to choose and prepare music, to lead the congregation in singing, to coordinate the other elements of the worship service with the day's Scripture texts. But even if nobody able to play the organ had shown up, the people assembled at New Hope would have worshipped.
3. Not everybody is on email all the time. I try to stay off of my email on Fridays, the day my wife and I keep as a sabbath, and I will unapologetically spend half or even all of a day disconnected from the interwebs. But while some people had their iPhones at hand even after Christmas dinner, others felt free to be unreachable except by traditional means. If I want to be sure I get a time-sensitive message out, I may need to place a call or two. The people who aren't constantly connected to email may not be the strange ones.
4. Not everybody looks at the prospect of inclement weather through the eyes of a schoolchild, or a teacher. (It drove me nuts early in our marriage when my wife, a public school teacher, would delight in the day off a snowstorm gave her, even as my to-do list waited patiently during the time I was out shoveling.) Some of us think about snow as a potential distraction, a reason to give ourselves a bit more time to get places, an element to factor into our lives. But others know that snowstorms can, and often should, result in calling off public events for the safety of those who would attend, and those who share the roads with them.
Having grown up in New England, I used to scoff at Marylanders' panicked runs to Giant for toilet paper at the barest prospect of a flurry. But having blown out a knee not once but three times in the past eight months, I have a greater appreciation for the dangers involved in traveling by any means over icy terrain. Sometimes the better part of valor should get the nod.
5. I'm an idiot. Given how quickly forecasts were changing, I should have waited until the morning to make the call, however much it may have inconvenienced people (and however many calls I may have had to field asking if we were having church in the morning). And I certainly should have checked the weather that morning and gone to meet people at the church, shrugging my shoulders sheepishly and taking everybody out for corned beef & swiss omelets at the newly reopened Suburban House.
Then again, if I had, perhaps the organ wouldn't have been warmed up, and the hearts of the people who showed up, and the heart of the God whose name they lifted up.
Either way, I know I won't hear the end of this one for a while.