By Fred Koenig
The snow was so powdery that in places on the church lawn you could still see the grass, and in other spots it was drifting three feet deep,” Osiel said. “That’s something we’re not used to here in Southwest Missouri.”
She decided to cancel, using the churches prayer chain/phone tree network. She also asked Sunday school and small group leaders to call members of their group. She posted the cancellation on the church’s Facebook page.
“That works well, because it will show up on people’s news feeds in Facebook, and they don’t have to go to our web page to look for a notice,” she said.
And Osiel contacted two Springfield television stations to share the cancellation notice. The multiple-methods worked well. The church hadn’t been cancelled for weather in a number of years, so Osiel went to church Sunday morning in case anyone showed up. Only one person did, and the church averages 175 in attendance. That person declined her offer of prayer time in the sanctuary and went back home.
All over the Missouri Conference, a polar vortex delivered a mix of snow, ice and record low temperatures for the first Sunday of worship in 2014. At Arch UMC in Hannibal, the church found it necessary to cancel on January 5, but they didn’t want to delay the start of the new sermon series based on the Rick Warren book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life. Instead they just moved their Sunday morning worship to their Wednesday evening fellowship time, having a full worship service that night to kick off the sermon series, complete with communion.
“I’ve always been a believer that worship can happen regardless of the day of the week,” Scott said.
If you checked the KOMU Channel 8 website on Sunday morning, January 5, you would have found 25 United Methodist Churches in the area listed as cancelled. One that wasn’t was Missouri UMC. When Rev. Amy Gearhart was appointed to the church, she inherited the policy of never cancelling for weather, and she has continued it. The church remains open for all three Sunday morning services.
“We want to be here for whomever my show up,” she said. Associate Pastor Larry Williams slept at the church that Saturday night, in case things got really bad. Most of the snow didn’t come until Sunday morning, though.
“I feel like I’m in a snow globe,” associate pastor Trista Soendker Nicholson said between greeting people in the glass-walled connector at Missouri UMC.
Missouri Conference Director of Administrative and Financial Ministries Nate Berneking said it is up to every church to make their own decision regarding cancellation for the safety of their congregation, and when it comes to attendance reporting, no one needs to get too nervous.
“We understand that the weather is beyond our control, and recognize when we look at Signs of Fruitfulness numbers that snow is going to have an impact,” he said.
When Rev. Jeff Brinkman of Lee’s Summit goes from his home to church at Woods Chapel on Sunday morning, it’s only a couple of miles, but he uses seven different roads to get there. On January 5, none of those roads had been touched with a snow plow yet when he made his drive, but when he got to church the parking lot was plowed clean.
Woods Chapel averages about 1,300 in attendance, so Brinkman said there is no way he would consider cancelling, because 100 people would still show up. But he also knows that many will stay home. On January 5, they had about 500 people come in. But the church has also been live streaming its services via the Internet. They typically have about 40 - 50 families joining the service online, but on January 5 that number jumped to 170. “We promoted this as an option in advance for people who didn’t think it was safe for them to get out, and a lot of people decided to connect this way,” he said.
You don’t have to be a large church to offer this option. Weston UMC, which averages about 120, live streams all of its services online, and posts all sermons as podcasts. “We have some technology geeks who take care of all of that for me,” said Rev. Kathleen Schmidtke. “We’re trying to educate our older folks on how to watch online, so when the weather is too bad for them to get out they can still be part of the service.”
Of course, that means there has to be a service to put online. Schmidtke lives a few miles out of town, and doesn’t have a four-wheel drive. But she does have a plan. When she can’t get out, she and her husband walk to Highway 45, and a member with a four-wheel drive picks them up and brings them to church. She likes keeping the church open for the die-hards.
“We’ve got a pretty tough group,” she said. “A lot of them are from Fort Leavenworth, and they don’t know the meaning of ‘too cold’ or ‘closed for bad weather’.”