When Snow Cancels Church

It’s amazing what 4 feet of snow can do.

It can drastically change the scenery outside your window. It can dictate your daily routine, adding an extra 30-60 minutes to shovel out your front door, sidewalks, driveway, and car. It can cause major holdups or terrible traffic on your morning commute. It can delay or cancel schools and businesses for days at a time. It can take city employees away from their families for days in order to plow highways, city streets, and back roads. It can cause the state’s largest mass transit system to literally shut down.

Four feet of snow can unite communities in common frustration and helplessness. It can give everyone something to complain about, together. Or it can ignite communities to work together to shovel out the homes of the elderly and shut-ins, to build snow people on the streets, or to donate items for the homeless who are especially vulnerable during this time.

For my community, it prompted a rare opportunity for Sunday morning worship, together.

In case you haven’t heard (i.e. you’ve been living under a rock), we have had some snow in Boston. It’s been a historic winter, with close to 4 feet of snow piling up just in the past three weeks. School cancellations have been the norm, it takes twice as long to travel anywhere both locally and statewide, and there is literally nowhere to put it all. The plow trucks can only pile the snow so high. Our streets and especially our sidewalks have become more and more narrow, almost disappearing altogether.

That’s why this past Sunday’s blizzard, during which we were only supposed to get a foot of snow (yeah, you read that right, ONLY a foot of snow. It’s all relative up here), caused most churches in the Boston area to defer to Mother Nature and cancel their services. The Memorial Church was one of these places, and many of my classmates’ churches and field education sites did the same.

So would you expect a bunch of seminarians with a rare Sunday morning off to use that time to sleep in or catch up on schoolwork? Heck, no! Instead we used it as an opportunity to gather in our student lounge for an informal time of worship and fellowship. We trekked to the lounge from our residence halls (literally trekked, the campus hadn’t been plowed yet) to sing, share poems and scripture, lift up prayers of joy and prayers of concern, and simply be together.

I was so refreshed and fed by this simple gathering. Each Sunday I have the privilege of helping to lead worship in the beautiful and historical Memorial Church, a community that takes pride in its legacy of intellectual Christianity and its high standard of excellence in music, preaching, and worship. Every week I don a black ministers’ robe and once a month serve Eucharist from the polished Harvard china. But there was something deeply satisfying and moving in Sunday’s change of scenery: sitting on a couch in my wool socks, holding the hands of my Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, and pluralist classmates, singing (by request, “In the Bleak Midwinter”) to a guitar instead of an organ, hearing the Word of God through slam poetry, the Mourner’s Kaddish, Mary Oliver, and Henri Nouwen, and cradling the many prayers around the circle in our hearts.

As we worshipped together, through the windows we could see the slow swirling and blowing around outside. Despite the many ways that this winter has been challenging, there have also been many blessings to find. Like I said, it’s amazing what 4 feet of snow can do.

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