The Rev. Scott Gunn touched off some lively conversation this weekend with an essay suggesting to his clergy colleagues to clergy colleagues in the snow-shrouded northeast and elsewhere that there were almost no circumstances in which a priest should cancel Sunday services:
Offering worship on the Lord’s Day is something I take very seriously as a priest. In fact, I can’t think of anything more important for a parish priest. In the wake of a storm, if the mall is open and the church is closed, I think it sends a terrible message. Why should the temple of commerce open up when God’s house is closed? What are we proclaiming about our values? For me, I will stand with the message that church goes on (almost no matter what).
There are other views. Some denominations don’t hold worship at the center of their tradition the way Anglicans do. When they cancel it means something different. One common objection to holding services in adverse conditions is that people will somehow risk life and limb to come to church if it’s open. This astounds me. It didn’t take me very long in parish ministry to learn that people don’t make life decisions around my preferences as their priest. Heck, if I had that kind of influence, I’d start by getting everyone to tithe. Just because church is offered doesn’t mean people will feel obligated to come, and it’s easy enough to communicate that before and during a weather or other event.
I’ve heard priests talk about what a hardship it is to hold services. This is one that I struggle with. Speaking for myself, I didn’t enter the vocation of priestly ministry for my own preferences or convenience. Sleeping in the church and picking up a shovel isn’t that hard. The message it sends is invaluable, not because the priest is seen as someone with a martyr-complex, but because the priest models someone who believes that there is nothing in this earthly life more important than the worship of Almighty God.