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Some members and friends of Westminster have expressed curiosity about the decision-making process for weather-related cancellations of Sunday worship. Recently, the writer of Hotline (Hal Murry) sat down for an interview with Westminster’s Interim Pastor (also Hal Murry) to learn about the cancellation process.
Editor: How frequently is Sunday worship canceled at Westminster?
Pastor: Not often. Since 2010, the average has been once-a-winter. There have been two winters when worship was canceled twice and two when there were no cancellations.
Editor: Who makes the decision? Is there a special Weather Task Force or an exclusive committee of weather scientists and highway engineers that meets to gather data and discern weather patterns? Do we consult with other churches?
Pastor: No, it’s just me.
Editor: Do you feel burdened by this responsibility?
Pastor: It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
Editor: How do you make the decision to cancel?
Pastor: I use simple and consistent criteria. If the National Weather Service has issued a Blizzard, Winter Storm or Ice Storm WARNING effective during our time of worship, I cancel.
Editor: Simple as that?
Pastor: I don’t lose sleep over this and I don’t try to outguess the National Weather Service.
Editor: How about a Winter Storm “Watch” or a Winter Weather “Advisory” or a Wind Chill “Advisory”? Will you cancel for them?
Pastor: No, no and no. But that doesn’t mean everyone should try to make it to church on those days. The highest priority is to be safe. We don’t want to lose ANY Presbyterians on the highway!
Editor: How about a Wind Chill Warning?
Pastor: I don’t cancel for cold, as long as the church is heated. Again, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be out in that weather.
Editor: What makes Winter Storm, Blizzard and Ice Storm WARNINGS so special?
Pastor: Because when those warnings are in effect, the Weather Service advises only emergency travel. And I don’t consider going to church to worship to be an emergency.
Editor: What if there is a budget shortfall, would you still cancel?
Pastor: Yes. Anyone who wishes may mail in their offering or bring it next week.
Editor: What if the Weather Service is wrong?
Pastor: Give thanks to God and enjoy the “day off.” We’re all about forgiveness.
Editor: How do you get word of cancellations out?
Pastor: We send a mass email; we put it on the church website and Facebook page; and we tell local media outlets, though some aren’t well-staffed on Sunday mornings. We try to get the word out as early as possible to prevent any unnecessary travel.
Editor: Do you sleep in when worship is canceled?
Pastor: Depends. Sometimes I watch TV or read the paper. Often I’m shoveling my driveway. After that I drink hot chocolate.
Rev. Dr. Marsha Wilfong, is a minister member of John Knox Presbytery. She formerly served as pastor of churches in Texas, Louisiana, and Bellevue, IA, and taught homiletics and worship at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary from 1996-2003. In retirement, Marsha worships here at Westminster, leads occasional Bible studies, plays Adult Handbells and assists with emergency pastoral care when Hal Murry is on vacation.
Isaiah 42:1-9 ( NRSV)
42Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
Matthew 3:13-17 ( NRSV) 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
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