Monday, July 14, 2008

Power and Safety?

One month ago, I had the joy of sitting in my sunroom on a Sunday morning, appreciating the summer service schedule that allowed me to watch a phenomenal storm roll in from the west, thunder across our neighborhood, drench our yard, and scatter amazing electrical displays. (Only later did it occur to me that, as cool as that was, perhaps I was not wise to sit and watch this in a room whose walls are all windows.)

If you think I am going to now riff on Psalm 29 - well, I wish I were. I will do in a couple of weeks when I teach Bible Boot Camp on the subject of worship, from their memory verses Psalm 29:1-2. Man, I love that lesson!

No, because what came next still disappoints and saddens me, for some reason.

On my drive to church it was obvious that the storm had been severe, and that power was going to be a problem. I arrived at the church to find a hastily scrawled sign that services were canceled, at least for the time. (What exactly did it mean? The initial syntax was not helpful.) I hustled into the sanctuary to find the morning's musicians had already figured out how to make the service work without power: piano instead of organ, that is easy. Small piano from the choir room instead of grand piano to accompany the solo vocalist - Christy's voice can easily (not to mention gorgeously) fill the room; the choir piano would not overpower her. With a massive skylight and a generous east window, there would be ample light for the congregation - so long as the dark storm did not return. Preaching would be a problem, but the rest of the service could roll without power. After all, we had absolutely nothing to keep us from doing church the way it's been done for centuries.

That is just one of the simple glories of a traditional/historical/acoustical worship service!

I came across to the church offices to try to find out who had made the decision to cancel services, and whether it was a given that we would. Key players in making that decision were present, and I do - no, honestly, really, I do - respect that decision. For safely reasons, we would cancel the services, and tell those arriving for a 9:30 service that we would not hold a morning service. Even if power came on? Well, thankfully (?) we did not have to deal with that.

Perhaps the nicest thing to come of this was that the ministry staff had the privilege of greeting people as they arrived, to explain what was up. And this gave us many good, brief, personal conversations ... many more than we would have had on a normal Sunday. I think we all enjoyed and appreciated that. For my part, I sort of had to explain that the one thing everyone was arriving for, we could have done: we could have held a worship service. What we could not do was open nurseries, navigate most of our hallways, or use bathrooms (because almost none have windows).

So, yes, it was the safe thing to do. It might have been the legal thing to do, vis-a-vis fire marshall code. I don't know. I just know that it was a little embarrasing to tell non-American worshipers (Asians, Indians) that we were canceling services because we had no electricity. It was sort of awkward to hear (though not critically) from one of our life-long members, cradle rolled in the 1930s, that he was sure a morning service had never been canceled before. I had to speculate: would Kent Hughes have canceled services? Was this decision - not lightly made, and made for all the right reasons - all too easy to make, at some level? What did it say, however unintended, about the importance and value placed on our weekly Sunday morning gathering?

Let me stop here and reiterate my respect for those who made the decision, under the press of time, with all the best intentions. If for any reason a reader quotes or references any part of my critique in this post without including my support of those who led in this matter, I will consider it a gross misrepresentation of the situation and of my opinions about it. We must be able to critique without demeaning; to question without disrespect; to ponder without second-guessing.

Well, that was all a month ago, and really what are the chances that we'll be confronted with this situation again? Trees and limbs were down all around us. Over 50,000 homes were without power early that Sunday morning (the number grew higher through the morning). It was not restored until late afternoon in the church's neighborhood, and even then it went out again before coming on to stay around 6pm. Still, I hope we have learned from it, and that if there is a next time we may be prepared to make a different decision.

I keep stopping myself from writing the Monday Morning Quarterback "what if." I hope, instead, that it won't be needed.

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