It's been a long winter... how is your church doing?

It's been a long winter... how is your church doing?

A little over a week ago our Conference staff sent out an email to all our churches checking in on the impact of the winter.  We had been hearing of some challenges with budgets and buildings and energy.  We had also been hearing of some creativity and ingenuity.

To date we have heard from around 5 dozen of our churches.  About a dozen of these had described overextended budgets and minor damage from ice dams.  Another dozen had more extreme damage including flooding, roof collapse, significant water damage, damage from falling ice, etc; some of which rendered their buildings unusable for a time.  Their Conference staff are following up with them to offer all of our support and prayers as they navigate the channels of building repairs and insurance processing. 

Some of the more challenging complications include:
  • The collapse of a portion of the roof at Old South Union in Weymouth. 
  • Extensive roof leaks leading to wall and flooring water damage in Pawtucket, Lowell and Rehoboth
  • Extensive ice dam leaks leading to ceiling and wall damage at the Minister & President’s parsonage at our Conference center in Framingham, as well as at the Edwards House Meeting & Retreat Center, where a back-up fire alarm system was also damaged by water;
  • Ice falling and snow buildup damaging windows and cars at First Winchester and Abington as well as Tabernacle in Salem
  • Ice ‘waterfalls’ 3 feet thick blocking handicap access and leading to actual waterfalls within the building at Statford street in West Roxbury
  • And from the other direction, a frost heave jamming an elevator door eliminating handicap access in Salem till the spring thaw
  • Another ice dam water leak leading to damage to an organ and its pipes at United Parish in Brookline
  • And numerous churches mentioned various levels of damage from ice dam water leaks and the loss of street parking (in some cases this was the only available parking) for several weeks. The comments we received ranged from humor to weariness and often included both.
It was suggested that our email query should also have included a question about how the winter might impact our attentiveness to the vulnerable populations in the communities around our churches.  While the question wasn’t asked, it was often answered.  Many folks wrote of how they were intentionally connecting with their homebound members regularly by phone and visit.  Some were including in their weekly worship prayers, the workers from roofers, to coffee shop owners, to snowplowers, to emergency personnel and beyond who were out for hours on end providing services to the community.  Some spoke of their ministry with the homeless through meals and street outreach.  Churches became warming centers filled to capacity from Old South in Boston to Pilgrim Church in New Bedford. 

And our innate New England yankee ingenuity was also expressed.  Many found creative ways to hold worship when the streets were impassible or parking was impossible.  Some went live using YouTube to broadcast their worship service from the comfort of a warm parsonage.  Some emailed out their bulletins with a copy of the sermon manuscript, scripture and prayers and invited the whole congregation to pause in the warmth of their own homes to be in the spirit of worship together at the regular service hour.  Some used social media to engage in interactive worship experienced during that normal worship hour.  Some taped messages about Lent and the long winter to be shared through Facebook with the congregation and its Facebook friends. Some gathered in phone conference calls to share in worship and prayer together.

Appreciation was also expressed.  It is not the policy of our Conference to send an email out with a cc list of email addresses.  Normally all emails are blind copied, but this one escaped before we realized it.  While a few were distressed by this, the vast majority of clergy and lay leaders expressed their appreciation at the thoughtfulness of our Conference and, particularly, for the chance to share and hear stories from each other in comradery, misery and hope. 

And a few gave us some interesting stories:
From Somerville:  “We've had one small ice dam leak--and accidentally heated our sanctuary to 95 degrees one day (beach party!) when the air intake valve jammed the furnace on.”  
Beach party indeed…there may be a creative idea lurking here if winter doesn't loosen its grip soon. 

From Barre where they felt the compelling need for ‘humor’ and offered:  “It was soooo cold at our house the other morning that even the bees had on their little yellow jackets.”  And 
"I'm so cold," his wife shivered. He replied, "Go stand in the corner; it's always 90 degrees there."

And we are still learning some lessons.  Some have wondered, how can we connect more closely with our neighboring churches (UCC or ecumenical) so we can share worship and building space when one becomes unusable?  Some have asked if there might be mission trip opportunities that arise as ways to help each other in some of the repair and renovations that may come after the spring thaw?  Everyone is a little more attentive to how to prepare and communicate changes in schedules and plans when weather moves in.  (Note:  There are some excellent resources for winter church preparedness on our MACUCC Disaster Resource Team web page: especially check out the preparedness guides from the White House and the UCC and the Blog by Estelle Margarones on winter preparedness)

For the moment we’ll leave you with a portion of an article sent by Nancy Taylor to her community in the depths of this long winter.

In her book, "The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong", Judith Rodin argues that this sort of massive disruption is the new normal. That we had better get used to it. That we had better invent ways to maneuver together through chaos and hardship.
            However, the most important take away from the considerable research that undergirds the book is this: our ability to successfully ride out disruptions, such as the one we are experiencing, depends largely on the quality of our relationships: our interconnectedness with neighbors, family, colleagues and friends.
            As such interconnectedness is our sweet-spot as a church, may I urge and encourage you-each and all-to thumb through the Church Directory or, in your mind's eye scan the pews, and ask yourself: Who have I not seen? Who am I concerned about? Who could use a call? And then, reach out. Please. Please reach out. You don't need permission from the clergy to check in on a pew mate. Please be proactive.
            Here are a range of ways you can be helpful: informing, tending, listening, comforting, praying. Remind someone that you are thinking of them, caring about them, worrying over them and praying for them.
            If you have been cut off from your usual social groups by impossibly high mountains of snow, or failed public transit, or a closed school or office, look to more immediate groups: neighbors in your building or on your street, fellow stranded pedestrians, whoever is near at hand. Smile a lot. Reach out a hand. Listen. Empathize. Comfort.
            Together we can soften a brutish and brutal season of cold

[Note:  if you haven’t had a chance yet, please share any impact from the storm with your Regional Associate Conference Minister so we can compile information and attend to needs]


Don H. Remick

Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.

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