Support the Café

Search our Site

Under what circumstances does one cancel Sunday worship

Under what circumstances does one cancel Sunday worship

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.



Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill Dilworth

” It wasn’t a cheap shot.”

From where I sit it was absolutely cut-rate.

I think this is one of those “irregular verbs.” Just as “I have stuff, you have junk, he/she has sh#t,” you have observations based on years of pastoral experience, while others merely have unrealistic expectations and a slew of unflattering character traits.

Jim Pratt

While my preference would be to hold worship regardless, common sense and a sense of context are needed.

I spent 7 winters in a 4-point parish in Western Newfoundland; travel to the furthest of my points meant crossing 5km of open coastal marsh; once I had the evening service there, and during the service a storm came in. I drove home through driving horizontal snow at about 20 kmph; the only thing I could see was the white line on the side of the road. Another time, returning from a hospital visit, I crossed the marsh by tailgating a tractor-trailer. If the weather was questionable I always called the warden there before setting out, as conditions could be quite different 20 km away (on one occasion, the bad conditions were closer to home, I set out, hit a white-out between the rectory and the highway, and turned around; when I called the warden to say I would not be coming, he said conditions were fine there.

On another occasion, at one of my other points, the warden and I pulled up to the church at about the same time. I got out of my car, took one step, and was blown 20 meters across the icy parking lot, my vestment bag acting as a sail. As I crawled back to my car, I told the warden to call everyone and tell them not to come to the church.

In the community where the rectory was located, I rarely cancelled, but I also made it clear to people that they should make their own decision whether or not to come out. People are responsible enough to evaluate the risks for themselves and decide.

Now I am in an urban parish; I live next door to the church and (barring downed power lines) can safely get there in any weather. Unlike in a small village, it is impossible to notify everyone (except for my small mid-week Eucharist). So I would never think of cancelling, though I would scale down depending on how many did make it. (and, as Bill’s example points out, you never know when someone might choose that Sunday to visit)


This is a great response to our controversy:

I also want to remind us (clergy) that we were taught in seminary, CPE, etc. that our priorities should be God, family, job. Too often, we confuse 1 and 3 and leave out family all together. Leading worship certainly has A LOT to do with loving God but loving God might also mean honoring the vows we made to our spouse (in my case BEFORE I was ordained) or the vows we made to our children at baptism.


Bill- It wasn’t a cheap shot. It is an observation borne over years of observation and experience at the hands of such attitudes. This conversation (much larger than just here at Episcopal Cafe) is simply another example on the type of one upman(woman)ship I’ve experienced among far too many colleages or the completely unreasonable and expectations of parishioners. That said, USUALLY I have found laity to be far more reasonable on this issue as they have been the ones to tell me “Please DO NOT risk your life for this one service or the lives of others you may kill on the road, risk your child growing up without a mother, your parents losing yet another daughter too early, and your husband losing a wife.”

I, along with many others over the last few days of this larger internet conversation, have been made to feel like we are sub-par clergy by some terribly biting comments because we simply support that there *MIGHT* be more than one way to handle this issue. I certainly do call that arrogance, pride, false-piety, machismo, and egocentricism.

Joie Weiher+

Maria L. Evans

Although I generally side with the church being open, even in bad weather (one never knows who might wander in the door literally seeking sanctuary from the bad weather, frankly) I think there is a balancing act. As one person posted, it is precisely the old and infirm who will risk life and limb, and if church is going to be open, I think there’s a certain degree of pastoral responsibility involved to let those people know they will be served pastorally somehow and going to church is not necessary, and, in their case, discoursged. We love our elderly parishioners and don’t want them to leave us prematurely from broken hips and subdural hematomas. Perhsps the assurance that they will be cared for pastorally even in their absence can help.

Now, that said, I want to talk about a day in my life that was Ash Wednesday from Hell. We had 3 inches of ice in 24 hours and our priest refused to cancel AND insisted that I as the Junior Warden, “take care of the walk.” Everything was closed and I ended up running risk of being stranded in town while my dogs were at home. It was not lost on me that this priest had to walk 250 feet to go to church and I had to trek in and out 8 miles in the country. I don’t even remember in the end if we had services or not–I sort of think we did but people were encouraged to use caution and discretion.

I understand the posters here who take their roles seriously, in fact I know and respect some of them greatly. But my one caveat is when others are involved in that process of “keeping the church open, no matter what.”

I also freely admit “country people find a way to get in and out of town, when town people stay home” (it’s our nature,) but in all things there is balance, ego disguised as the temptation of “duty” should never give way to common sense. I have only been stranded twice in 23 years from being able to attend my duties with the hospital, but I would never drag someone else out to do for me what I can’t do myself. I think there is a wonderful opportunity for ministry by being open when all else is closed, but discretion and balance would be key in these sorts of decisions.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café