I made the decision to cancel our gathering for worship today at First Baptist Church of Asheville. As a safety decision, I am nearly certain it was the right thing to do. Getting to the church campus would be treacherous today, and I don’t want to put people at unnecessary risk.
But, I have theological convictions that are in conflict with safety considerations. There is, I am sure, nothing more important than the worship of God, and the best worship happens when a community of faith comes together, regularly and faithfully, to sing and pray, to hear and respond to the Good News, and to offer and receive the encouragement and support of fellow followers of Jesus.
Because worship matters so much, a church has a glad obligation not to let anything interfere with it. One of the most significant ways the church has, throughout history, borne witness to its faith is to gather on Sunday, no matter what, to worship God. I have heard now-elderly Londoners describe the worship they shared in bombed-out cathedrals during WW II. I have listened to citizens of the former Soviet Union speak of assembling for worship each Sunday despite the harsh realities of government persecution. Snow isn’t nearly as great a problem as war or persecution, for goodness sake, so I am always hesitant to let weather keep us from shared worship.
When the church gathers for worship even when it is difficult or even dangerous, it is a way of saying that the God we praise transcends all the challenges and problems we face. It is a way of reminding ourselves and gently telling the world that, as little sense as it might make in strictly rational ways, there really is nothing that matters more than our faithful and joyful response to the love of God made known in Jesus.
I “get it” that we can worship God anywhere anytime. And, I don’t believe God is disappointed in, or frustrated with, a church which can’t gather on a Sunday. God has no need for us to prove our faithfulness by running foolish risks. Faith calls for real risks, but not stupid ones. Being “heroic” when heroism isn’t really called-for is a kind of pious charade, not faithfulness. We need heroism when we face injustice, violence, idolatry and cruelty–not wintry roads. We are, always, “saved by grace and not by works,” including the “work” of worship.
I also understand that, for most of history and in most places, driving to worship was not an issue. If we all lived close enough to the sanctuary to walk (or ride a horse!)—if coming together didn’t involve cars and slick roads—many of us would be there today.
Here’s something else I need to admit: A missed December Sunday adversely and seriously affects our church’s finances. December is a crucial month for giving, and, when we miss a Sunday toward the end of the year, money we vitally need to fund the mission and ministry of our church is far less likely to be given. I know that this concern can sound superficial or even greedy; in fact, what I think about are mission and ministry projects that don’t get fully funded; music, youth and children’s ministries that end-up under-resourced; and senior adult ministries that get trimmed because budgets aren’t completely met. I think about people and their needs, not about budget targets and balance sheets. We will need folks to send their contributions to the church this week, or we will end the year in a very difficult position.
The snow is, in so many ways, a gift: it is so beautiful, for one thing, and, for another, it allows us (or forces us, depending on our temperaments) to slow down, to stay closer to home, and to “be” more than “do.” Enjoy the day and its gifts; and, in whatever ways you can, offer your worship to God.