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How we worshipped after Winter Storm Jonas

January 29, 2016

By Erik Alsgaard*

Snow at Camp Manidokan
Snow at Camp Manidokan.

As Winter Storm Jonas doused the Baltimore-Washington Conference with historic levels of snow Jan. 22 and 23, United Methodists wondered: will we have worship on Jan. 24, or not? The answers played out on social media and ranged from being fully closed to being fully open.

At Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., where they pride themselves in never closing, a hardy group of worshippers gathered for one service at 11 a.m. The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli walked to work that morning, posting pictures to Facebook of a snowed-in Union Station on the way. As usual, their worship service was live streamed over the Internet so that people in their pajamas could participate.

Arden UMC, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, saw the Rev. Sarah Andrews Schlieckert use the church’s website to post a “Snow Day Worship Resource” that started with the instruction, “Turn off the TV, close your computer (if not using it for worship), gather any items, materials or resources (like music) you hope to use for worship.”  The resource followed a four-fold structure of Entrance, Proclamation and Response, Thanksgiving, and Sending Forth. “This structure is a helpful guide not only for our worship together, but also on days like today when we must worship separately,” Schlieckert wrote.

Schlieckert’s husband, Chris, runs Camp Manidokan in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., He set up a GoPro camera at the camp and recorded a 62-second time-lapse video showing what 30-plus inches of snow in 18 hours looks like.

Several congregations held “call-in” worship service over the telephone, using conference call technology. One of those congregations was Trinity UMC in Annapolis, where the church’s pastor, the Rev. Chris Owens, posted on his Facebook page that five people actually made it to the church building Sunday morning, but more than 35 people called in.

“Today I went to church in Annapolis, and never left my house!” one person posted after the worship service was over. “Thankful for technology that allowed me to join in on a conference call worship service at Trinity UMC, and for the creativity of pastors who make this kind of adventure happen.”

On the Baltimore-Washington Conference Order of Elders Facebook page (a closed group), spirited conversations about when and if a church should close because of bad weather began well before the first flakes arrived. Some clergy were certain that even in the midst of a blizzard, church doors should be open on Sunday morning. Others weren’t quite so sure, especially in the midst of historic snow totals.

The consensus about cancelling Sunday morning worship appeared to be, wait until Saturday to do it.

Several churches used the power of social media to alert people of various needs in the community, from people needing help shoveling out to offering prayer after someone fell and hit their head so hard it took them to the hospital.

Through it all, even as Winter Storm Jonas forced churches to change plans, United Methodists throughout the BWC showed, once again, we have the ability to be church in action. Even if it means preaching in your pajamas.

*Rev. Erik Alsgaard is Editor of the UMConnection newspaper, and enjoyed worshipping online Jan. 24 with Foundry UMC.

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