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Churches brace for snow cancelations

PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Philadelphia is expecting so much snow that some churches may have to cancel worship services not just this Sunday, but the following week too.

That’s because many of the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association’s 143 congregations have no parking lots, and snow could be piled up in their curbside parking for more than a week, said Peter Yanes, a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst and ethnic church strategist for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey.

The City of Brotherly Love is expecting 12-18 inches of snow Jan. 22-23, according to the National Weather Service, as part of a winter storm that could affect a quarter of the U.S. population, dump two-and-a-half feet of snow on Washington, D.C., and cause thousands of churches to consider cancelling worship services this weekend.

Pastors and other ministers in affected areas told Baptist Press church cancelation policies vary, and the financial impact of winter storms can be significant.

Churches in Philadelphia “encourage all of our families that if there is closure of streets and you can’t make it to our churches, do your own family worship time [at home] and family bonding,” Yanes told BP. Believers “will be missing going to church together, but we expect them not to miss worship.”

On Friday, Yanes said the church he attends had already cancelled a Saturday wedding and was waiting to see whether public transportation would operate Sunday — since some church members use public transportation to attend worship.

Winter weather makes January the most challenging month of the year financially for Philadelphia churches, Yanes said, and some build an expectation of lower offerings into their planning.

“Many of our churches are struggling financially, and to remove one collection [of offerings] a month will have a big impact on the income of the church,” he said.

Farther north in New England, January snow last year decreased churches’ giving through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.

Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told BP in an email, “Last January was brutal and many churches cancelled two or three Sundays in a row. Not only was it devastating to some of those churches financially, but it impacted CP giving and gave us one of our lowest months in years. It took several months for the budget to fully recover.”

In Charlotte, N.C. — which CNN said “looked like a ghost town” Friday because residents stayed home to avoid snow and ice — the pastor of multi-site Hickory Grove Baptist Church said worship will not be cancelled altogether Sunday, though some individual services at the congregation’s two campuses may be called off.

“We historically have not ever cancelled church on snow and ice days,” Hickory Grove pastor Clint Pressley told BP. “…It’s the Lord’s Day. Our church is pretty close to neighborhoods. There are those who will want to worship, and most of our maintenance guys, including the pastor, have four-wheel-drive vehicles. We can get there.”

Pressley said sidewalks and parking lots will be salted, and greeters will be stationed at entrances “to make sure people can get in safely.”

Financially, “varying weather days” always cause Hickory Grove to “take a hit,” Pressley said. “You won’t really ever make that up. But it’s not been something that’s ever impacted the budget to the degree we had to make adjustments.”

Unlike Hickory Grove Baptist Church, which averages 4,000-5,000 in worship, smaller congregations face unique challenges related to snow, said Cliff Woodman, president of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network. When he served as a bivocational pastor in the past, Woodman cleared snow off the church parking lot himself. He contrasted that with the situation at larger churches that often pay for snow removal.

“I hoped it was going to snow on Saturday night so I could go clean [the parking] then rather than on Sunday morning,” said Woodman, currently the fulltime pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, Ill.

When it comes to finances, small churches and large churches alike are impacted by snow, Woodman said, noting that worship attendees who give on the spur of the moment rather than in a planned fashion typically do not make up for snow days.

“I attribute [the financial impact of snow days] to the offering plate and the people who pull out $20 or $10 or $1 and put it in the plate,” Woodman said. “They don’t have that opportunity to give, and the next week they’re not going to give $40 instead of $20.”

Still, lower offerings in snowy months tend to be balanced by good offerings in other months, he said. When considering whether to cancel church, finances should not be a consideration.

A congregation’s weather-related decisions should be focused on “the safety of the people and the age of the people you have driving,” Woodman said.