The message of canceled church services

34 Responses

  1. Chris Arnold says:

    I love this. I agree with this. Fortunately, my rectory is right next to the church. Even when we had a little snow and ice here last weekend I didn’t cancel. The worship goes on as it does in heaven, whether it snows or not.

    I am stealing your idea of referring people to Trinity and the National Cathedral. I’ll remember that for next time.

  2. Eric Funston says:

    When one does not live in a rectory right next to the church building but at a remove of miles, and the roads are impassible (and perhaps closed by municipal or state order), one does not have a choice but to cancel services. This was the situation I found myself in a few years ago on the one and only occasion when I have canceled services, and was the situation many clergy found themselves in in this most recent storm. Otherwise, I agree with you. On the Lord’s Day, if it can be opened for worship, the church should be and worship should be offered.

  3. Susan says:

    Connecticut had a travel ban. New Haven is still under a travel ban. A few churches held services today–those where either clergy or laity could walk to church. A couple of churches went with alternatives–call in services for a bunch of the evangelical churches–I had no idea how many of them had that technology. One had a skype service. St. PJs did a service via facebook–I have no idea how that one worked out. A few of the churches that had a handful come were going to post the videos later.

    I see your point, but I also see that when, for the safety of the community, all cars have been ordered idle, and there is 3 feet of snow on the roads, there really is no choice.

  4. Well, I canceled church services once (church services, not worship). It was the Sunday that Hurricane Irene flooded my town. It was a public safety risk to drive that day. And, in fact, a woman died on the road my church is on right as church would have been letting out. She was washed away from her car. So, yes, sometimes it’s legitimate to cancel services and encourage folks to use the sense God gave them and worship God at home.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Susan and Emily, when there is a travel ban, as I say in the post, there is no way to have services. But apart from that, I see no reason to cancel.

    Eric, I should have mentioned in my post: when I was rector, I lived eight miles from the church. That’s why whenever there was a big storm coming, I went over to the church ahead of it to sleep there. We never canceled, and we always had a congregation of grateful worshipers.

  6. Willo Fuhr says:

    Thanks for the information regarding the National Cathedral services when you can’t get to church.

  7. Jean says:


    This was my first test as a new priest in a town experiencing a blizzard. After receiving a phone call saying that most of the people were staying home (we are a small congregation) I decided to go in anyway since it wasn’t too bad yet and we have all wheel drive. I’m very glad I did! We had six people and we had a great time! It taught me a very valuable lesson, that’s for sure, to trust the whispering of the Spirit over the yelling of the news and weather agencies. That having been said, I’m glad we didn’t have a service scheduled now. We are in total whiteout conditions and I’m very glad to be safe at home.

  8. Cori Olson says:

    I agree with your thoughts and think that cancelling services should only be done in the most extreme of circumstances. That, however, is not the NEVER your friend said in his FB post. Of course, I live in Miami so snow storms are not a problem for us. We would only cancel in the case of a hurricane if the state had told us to stay off the roads. In that case, walking does not make you safer. Still, you hit the real nail on the head with the comments regarding the Weather Station naming winter storms and whipping us all into a frenzy. They do a good job at that!!

  9. Raewynne says:

    I cancelled. Only the main road in our area was plowed; everything else was virgin snow or hardpacked ice. And only some of our parking was plowed. Half our parishioners were in areas where there was a driving ban, and most of the rest of us were in areas that advised only to drive in emergencies. My neighbors tried to get to their church, only to turn back after about 100yds (took them 10 mins to get that far) – it simply wasn’t safely passable. And I was there – I walked over. I agree that we shouldn’t cancel lightly, but I also think that sometimes by not canceling when it really isn’t safe to be out, we give the message that worship is only valid when it’s in a church building.

  10. Amy McCreath says:

    We forged ahead this morning in Watertown, MA. You’ll be glad to know that our “Prayerbook 101” discussion after worship ended with us deciding to start getting copies of “Forward Day by Day” for people. Good thing we held church, huh?!

  11. Mariclaire Buckley says:

    Wonderful piece-spot on. I was one of the ninety this morning and it was well worth the effort of shoveling out

  12. Scott Gunn says:

    Amy, that’s awesome — mostly that you had both worship and formation. Wanting Forward Day by Day is a bonus. By the way, we publish (on our website) a free “reader’s guide” every month with info about the author, discussion questions, and more.

  13. Lisa Hamilton says:

    Matt Lincoln, rector in North Haven, CT, held church for 5 and streamed worship to pre-allerted parishioners. Yay Matt! Yay technology! He opted for Morning Prayer due to complications with e-communion

  14. Scott Gunn says:

    Oh, and as I said in the blog post, I’m completely OK with closing the church when conditions warrant. I just have trouble thinking of times when stores can be open and the church should be closed. That’s the rub for me — we seem less committed to our worship as a culture than we are to commerce.

  15. Darrell says:

    Good judgement is the rule of thumb for all matters great and small. Let us pray for good judgement. I stayed home this morning. Instead of following my normal Sunday routine of attending the 10 am worship service. It was wonderful. I lounged in bed and ate what I wanted to. I drank white wine from New Zealand. I had a one on one with the Holy One and it brought me to tears. They were tears of renewal and cleansing. It was a moment which could not have occurred in the formal confines of public worship. Sometimes we need to just steal away. I see storms of this nature as an opportunity for so doing. Everyday is the Lord’s day. We have decided to d our formal celebrating on Sunday morning. However, everyday God is waiting to hear from us as we praise and worship God in spirit and in truth with our all. “Sunshine or rain, heartaches and pain; He’s my friend.” Coming from the maternal grandparents household I grew up in, all that I have shared about skipping church would be considered a sacrilege. Guess What? It’s not. And yes I am familiar with “Do not Forsake the assembling of yourselves.” I didn’t forsake it. I took a much needed break and had a one on one with my Father who is in heaven and it has made for an absolutely wonderful Sunday and awesome week start. Understand that where ever you are and whatever you are going through, the doors of the Church are open. Come on in. Come on in. pax Christi

  16. Hank says:

    OK I’ll play the walked uphill to school game. Many years ago I walked to church through two feet of snow to lead worship w/ the organist and a father and son who came on skis and it was great! As a minister in a non-creedal church where we trust folks to make the right choice on their theology, then we should be able to trust them to figure out of its safe to come to church.

    Also if I ever entertain the idea of closing for bad weather I know I will be haunted by the ghosts of the Puritan ministers .

  17. Richard Yudin says:

    Greetings from Florida

    “In time of danger, not before, God and the soldier we alike adore…”

    Nothing more comforting in the wake of a disaster than reuniting with the shreds of one’s community. One of the most memorable services I have attended in my life was right after a hurricane, when I had to wade knee-deep though floodwater to reach the church several blocks from where I was living at the time.

  18. Katie Bennett says:

    I was also one of the 90 who showed up. Really glad that church was open. Being a single mom stuck in a blizzard with 4 kids would make anyone a little stir crazy. And i was grateful for the congregation, and the simple comforts of ritual and the passing of the peace. It made me a better mom for the rest of the day.
    I agree with this post 100%. There’s no reason why everyone has to go to church every week out of some sort of legalistic duty. But it’s a nice reflection of a message we repeatedly hear in the pulpit- that God will never leave us or forsake us.

  19. Catherine says:

    My husband is an Anglican Priest. He was ordained 37 yrs ago and has reached his Parosh and taken services by boat, ski-doo, bus, train, and car. We live on Vancouver Island Canada and it never gets below – 6 where we live. A couple of years ago we were walloped by a huge snow storm on Christmas Eve morning. The snow continued throughout the day. There is NO snow removal equipment in our small city. There was around 4 ft. of snow out there. After several phone calls with wardens, and a treacherous drive down the hill to shovel for hours; the decision was to cancel Christmas Eve Services. There was nowhere to put the shoveled snow and nowhere to park as well as the roads being impassable. When he got home we began to call everyone. People were relieved; bit the saddest response came from a woman who burst into tears. Not because the service was cancelled , but because she was so grateful that she wasn’t going to be someone who missed the service because she couldn’t get out of her driveway!

  20. Catherine says:

    I meant to add that my husband has never before this one time … Ever cancelled a service in 37 yrs. of ordination. He has served in all different parishes in all parts of the Country including Canada’s North.

  21. Larry Britt says:

    In 20 plus years in the parish, I cancelled Sunday services exactly once – because there was a live power line down across the front entrance. It seemed the prudent thing to do.

  22. So. . .as one of those New England Ministers, who also works with congregations that have been traumatized. We were open yesterday. 35 hearty souls should up for church. As I drove to the church and watched a number of cars slide through intersections, slide sideways around corners (I did this once), and slide down hills. Here’s my question: Is it true that God requires us to sacrifice our vehicles, and potentially our lives, in order to keep the church open on a day when everything else, including almost ever restaurant, mini-mart, college, and other public facility is closed? Is a church more healthy to have to grieve the loss of a member who dies trying to get to church in really bad weather? Does one get to heaven faster when you die attempting such an act? Just wondering?

  23. Gary Goldacker says:

    I am in complete agreement and have experienced many of the circumstances you mention. Don’t I remember a time when we were in RI that some churches cancelled services due to a predicted weather-related issue and the bishop issued a “decree” on the Monday after that services should never be cancelled unless there was a state declared emergency order to stay off the roads?

  24. Lou Florio says:

    Thanks for the post. I’ll be sharing it with my intern as this type of decision is always difficult. I mostly agree, but I would like to comment on one thing though. As a former police officer and now a pastor, I suggest that a person not just look for an official ban on driving. Governments are prone to avoid the economic consequences of such official bans, and malls tend to like to open when they shouldn’t. So instead, the “recommend” or “request” people stay off the roads. Many states and provinces have websites indicating the number of road closures, hazards, etc., which might prove a better aid in discernment. You can also contact your local law enforcement or the agency that handles weather emergencies for their input on road safety and travel. If they or other government agents suggest no travel or request that people stay off the roads to help with snow or tree removal, or due to risk, etc., it might just be best to listen to them. I remember well people in my way during weather emergencies. My law enforcement and fire bretheren didn’t always see them in a Christian light, as it increased our duties (responding to accidents and injuries) or they got in our way during emergency responses. After our last hurricane, our county law enforcement had the entire force mobilized with most watching all the stop lights that were still out to direct traffic. This was during a time when state and county authorities asked people to restrict driving to that which was necessary. Many stores and churches still opened, many blew off the request to see the damage, accidents went up, and response times went down. In addition, some people are indeed prone to miscalculate the risks and their abilities, such as one 80 year old man I know who went out, slipped on ice getting out of his car, broke his hip and never recovered. Every congregation and region responds to weather and other emergency events differently (some better than others), but as we seek to love and worship God, I always caution that we should seek to love our neighbors as part of any decision making process to have worship or not. Just because roads are open after a weather (i.e. no ban) emergency doesn’t mean people should be driving. Encourage everyone to make the best decision for themselves but also listen to the recommendations of authorities. This helps them restore services and better meet the safety needs of our communities.

  25. Anisa says:

    I agree in theory; here is the other side.

  26. Cindy Scott says:

    We not only had our regular Eucharist yesterday but we had our Annual Meeting! No problem having a quorum here!

  27. Margot Critchfield says:

    I never thought I’d ever cancel church, but we had no heat, no electricity, and a ban on water use. I think our time was much better spent ministering to our elderly parishioners and those in our parish whose homes were literally below 34 degrees. We opened the church for those who wanted to pray, but only two came. No regrets.

  28. Scott Elliott says:

    I’m a deacon, so it’s not my call to hold, or not to hold, a service. I know that, unless I am too ill to go, and unless I am *told* not to come for a service for which I am scheduled, I’m there.

    There was one Friday in Lent a few years ago, when one layperson and I were the only ones to show up for Stations and Benediction. We did Stations (unvested), alternating the parts, with a rather modified version of Benediction. It was the most meaningful experience of either service, either of us had ever had.

  29. Just for the record, we didn’t have a travel ban with Hurricane Irene. We only had an indication that a strong storm was coming with flooding. Thankfully we didn’t wait for a travel ban. People might have died had we done so.

  30. “When I was a rector, I used to tell the congregation that only a state-declared emergency order would cause us to cancel services.”

    Several states across the Northeast issued such state-declared emergencies and travel bans.

    While I agree with the sentiment that the church “should burn brightly as a symbol of Christ’s presence in the world,” I’m not convinced that closing during a weather emergency sends a signal of not being committed. I think it sends a signal that we are part of our communities, that we are suffering every bit as much as they are, and that we are concerned for their well-being.

    Its a tough balance, to be sure, but I think there’s another perspective that didn’t get included in your thoughts here.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    In some instances, such as when clergy cannot make it to the building, having a layperson lead Morning Prayer might be an alternative to canceling worship at the church.

  32. Lisa Hamilton says:

    Interesting that we’re still discussing this! Anyway, I canceled a 6pm service the Sunday Tropical Storm Debbie was coming through Florida last June. I phoned all the regulars for that service, and of those I was able to reach, each one of them said something like, “Are you kidding?! I’m not crazy enough to go out in that!” And with each one of them, I enjoyed a good laugh. Which strikes me as some sort of communion!

  33. Bill Dilworth says:

    Frankly, Father, I am shocked (shocked!) by your post. Thank goodness there have been so many helpful commenters on other sites who have eagerly reminded you of what you have clearly forgotten – namely, Our Lord’s first and great commandment: “Safety first!” And the second is like unto it: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

    Providence Place was open. The vast majority of Starbucks were open. PPAC seems to have held their Sunday performances of “American Idiot” as planned. Most Episcopal parishes in the Ocean State, though, would seem to have been closed, if the diocesan website is any indication. I disagreed with Bishop Wolf on some issues, but the “Church services are not to be cancelled” policy wasn’t one of them.

  34. Bill Dilworth says:

    “Several states across the Northeast issued such state-declared emergencies and travel bans.”

    I don’t know about the rest of New England, but the travel bans in Connecticut and Massachusetts were lifted by Saturday evening. Rhode Island’s ban only applied to highways, not surface streets, and it was lifted on Saturday afternoon, as well. Any church cancellations on Sunday, then, were not because of travel bans.