A Good Pastor Is An Alive One

This horrible comment left me remembering a young priest who died in a car accident while driving between two parishes on icy roads about fifteen years ago. I was in seminary at the time and have never forgotten him:

Just to be clear, I’ve been told to sleep at church (some tiny country parishes don’t even have a decent bathroom much less a little place to sleep), go anyway, doesn’t matter if lot is plowed, clergy and those who live close can “trudge for Jesus.” I did not have to make the call as a rector…my wardens made it for me and INSISTED!….and they were right.

Joie, this isn’t to say that you or your people are horrible, it’s just a horrible comment to me today because this “we need to trudge for Jesus” attitude is literally killing people in my region right now. This heroic, “we can tough it out” mentality is not stoic, it’s suicidal. We have had eight carbon monoxide poisonings in town since the blizzard hit, and many are still trying to endure the cold with nothing but wood stoves to keep them warm. They are now on their third day without heat. Children and elders are especially at risk.

What a stupid idea, asking a minister or anyone else to spend the night in a freezing building without electricity. Is that some kind of Hazing For Jesus? You have to prove your love of God and your loyalty to the Church by suffering and shivering? You’re a better pastor for risking your life or for enduring a night of terror listening to trees smash against the roof of the 19th century building?

Or you could realize that your life is actually, literally in danger and wind up calling 911 for a police rescue. THAT’s a brilliant use of your brain and of community resources. I’m friends with too many public safety officials and workers to think that trying to keep a church open during a blizzard is anything but sheer egotistical madness. Trust me, you will be needed in one safe piece when the skies have cleared and the ground is covered with three feet of snow and ice, people are scared and evacuating and without power for several days, pets need to be rescued, home hospitality need to be coordinated and people are counting on you to be Informational Central for the parish.

Here endeth my rant. I’m tired. We got power at the parsonage last night but many still don’t have any and the roads are just getting decent enough for me to drive safely around and check on folks. We are learning a LOT about emergency preparedness and I will be compiling a list of Things We Need To Know as soon as I get some time. They will include:

Why You Should Have a Cell Phone And Have Basic Texting Skills
How To Set Up a Voice Mail Account On Your Cell Phone
How To Program A GPS (And Why You Should Have One)
We Need Your Cell Phone Number At Church
How To Check The Church Twitter and Facebook Pages From Your Smart Phone
Packing A “Run-For-It” Bag
Wood Stove Safety

Gotta run now, pigeons. It’s still a mess where we are. As an aside, we are living out an interesting metaphor for poverty in America right now as a community: those with heat and power and dug-out cars are back to business. Down the street or a half mile away, there are many who are still huddled in the dark around wood stoves, eating cold soup out of a can and trapped indoors by the snow drifts. It’s so easy and tempting to stop worrying or thinking about them once we’re back to our zippy lives. But we can’t. We need to zip to them with shovels and pack them in our own cars and get them to the shelter.


14 Replies to “A Good Pastor Is An Alive One”

  1. FABULOUS list of things to do before a disaster! I think I should incorporate this in my list of trainings. There could be a breakout session just for cell phone texting and GPS programming. (And yes, a standalone GPS, not one that relies on the internet.)

  2. Another highly recommended place for emergency preparedness information is Sharon Astyk, who blogs at http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/ (about emergency preparedness and many other things, but you can click around or navigate with tags if you are good at that stuff) and who has written many fabulous books including the one most pertinent to this situation, titled Independence Days. She is also a big proponent of a notion similar to the one you get at in your last paragraph–that one goal of preparedness should be preparing enough to help others who are less prepared. In any case, I have really appreciated her work, and perhaps others will too, so I thought it would be useful to share.

  3. Thank you for this! I was one of those who cancelled, with some guilty feelings, but it was the right decision. Many parishioners still aren’t plowed, and we have flooding now, along with ice on the sidewalks that were cleared. It’s easy to second guess decisions when you aren’t in the middle of them!

  4. For emergency preparedness you can start in worse places than this: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009176.html

    Link goes to an index of emergency preparedness, disaster readiness and emergency medicine discussions on a site populated primarily by readers and writers of speculative fiction – in other words, a community of literate people who have interesting and detailed discussions about pretty much anything. There are several discussions of When New England Winter Gets Unfriendly in addition to the hurricane, fire, flood, mass casualty disaster, zombie apocalypse, etc. discussions.

    Alas, not too much fashion discussion (except of the “If you must wear high heels to look professional, have a pair of jogging shoes in your go bag in case you have to walk out of an urban disaster area” nature.)

  5. Thanks, PB! I am also “Joy” in my comments on your last post in addition to “Joie” … It just depends on how I’m signed in on my computer. I didn’t have to struggle with this call in this storm. Instead, I was reacting to the mentality represented in my quote that you quoted. In the FB argument I had with some (mostly) male clergy, I also wanted to point out I made a vow to be faithful to my husband and made vows to God on behalf of my son at his baptism but I had a feeling that crew would get up in arms and quote Jesus saying our family are they who do God’s will and that God willed worship at 10:00 am on Sunday morning. Ridiculous, I know. You are much more to the point: A good pastor is an ALIVE pastor! [Oh, gotchya! I like your broader consideration of vows of fidelity to your husband and your son. I have to think that a lot of what these guys are preaching isn’t so much Christian faithfulness as machismo dressed up in a Geneva gown. – PB]

  6. Oooo… Yes, the seven whole days has gone around Facebook too. I like Joie’s logic of her responsibilities to her spouse. I too have made that point- I took vows to my husband… Not to my church. My faithfulness to him must come first. And if I would be pissed if he took off in a whirling snowstorm, I have to turn that back on me as well.

    I also take issue with the logic of “if the mall is open, we should be too.” I find that faulty. On Facebook, I made the point that the mall opens at midnight on thanksgiving night so that we may run in like wild boars. [LOL!!! – PB] It doesn’t mean that we do. Isn’t the point of the church to be counter cultural? If the mall is open in a state of emergency or in dangerous conditions, it doesn’t mean tha the decision was right or good or holy or respecting the dignity of every human being (which DOES Happen to be a vow I have taken). I’d rather we close when the schools and libraries are closed. If its too dangerous for the librarian and a cute little first grader to be out, then it’s too dangerous for our sweet ole dears.

    Btw, when I lived across the parking lot from church, I would at least open the building just for shelter and I’d say my own prayers. And when I lived 35 miles away, I was more likely to cancel. And sometimes I stayed in the nearby hotel in town.

  7. My church is located in a small town in the rural Midwest. I most likely would not cancel church as I have folks who can walk to church. I don’t live next door to the church but have…so far…been able to drive the mile to church. Having said all of that I would cancel church…after consulting with God…if we had roads not yet plowed because of heavy snow and/or extreme icing conditions. I don’t buy the argument that churches MUST be open just because some stores are open. Those stores could very well be open so people…if they can get to the stores…can purchase emergency supplies. In extreme circumstances it is far better to keep unnecessary traffic off the roads so the crews can do their job of clearing the roads.

  8. I’m in Western Mass, so most of us were plowed out by Sunday. Not all of us, but enough. What we’ve done during other storms, though, is do morning prayer by conference call. We’ve set it up with three or four of us ready to lead worship (in case some of us don’t have phone service or cell service for some reason) and the congregation knows the number and access code. It’s not the same as gathering in the same building, but it provides community, comfort and an opportunity for pastoral care. There are several free conference call services.

  9. Seriously looking forward to your list, hon–as a middle-aged Methodist, just coming out of seminary in May, a little rural church or two are probably in my near future. And down here we might never get your amount of snow, but ice storms can make things almost as dangerous. Scary, scary roads, and trees falling on your roof!

  10. Seems to me that “church” would be better served in foul and dangerous weather by a message telling people to monitor their neighbors. Maybe set up phone/visit trees so that rather than hauling down dangerous roads for a service most can’t attend, that folks check up on their immediate neighbors and make sure that the old lady next door or the poor family down the road are warm, safe, adn fed.

  11. A few years ago when we had massive flooding an elderly couple died trying to drive to a church in our diocese. Its not just a safety issue for the clergy, it also involves the safety of the parishioners whose lives may be put at risk. [Of course! Thanks for pointing out the obvious that I assumed I had already pointed out, but hadn’t. YES!! Yes, a thousand times yes! – PB]

  12. I am very blessed that I live in a rectory next to the church. I have told parishioners when we’ve had ice storms/heavy snowfalls or rainfalls that I’d rather they pray at home the risk their lives coming to church.

    I go because there is no reason not to, unless the sidewalk is so slippery it’s not safe. We have an email and a phone tree that I’ve used before in bad weather or anticipated rough weather.

    I don’t think we are called to endanger our lives for Jesus. Have gave his life that we may have eternal life…’nuff said.

    My congregation is interesting in the ones who live furthest away will attempt to get to church while the ones who live within walking distance will be sensible. Safety first is what I truly believe. Church is the people, not the building.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *