Snow money, snow problems

Throughout the 10 years I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. I’ve made great sport of the freakouts that accompany snow in the region. Unlike these puny mid-Atlantic mortals, I grew up in a part of Oregon where four or more feet of snow in my front yard wasn’t uncommon. My wife, being from Colorado, frequently joined me in scoffing.

Until now. I kindly refer you to the photo of the street Casa de Hemingway is on from last weekend. Mind you, this photo is before it snowed an additional 10-20 inches this past Wednesday. Parts of the city saw 52 inches of snow — in less than a week.

I don’t care where you live, the amount of snow we’ve received in the last week is ridiculous. Driving has been almost out of the question, as for days on end most of the sidestreets in our neighborhood remained unplowed. Heck, even getting to our ransacked grocery store four blocks away just to get more baby food has been an ordeal.

But by far the biggest challenge was getting to our church 10 miles away this past Sunday. A friend and parishoner in our neighborhood managed to dig his car out and get close to our house. The whole Hemingway family piled in his car and managed to make it to church, but few others did. There were around 30 people attending services that Sunday, compared to over 200 on average. (A lot of area churches canceled services, but our Lutheran pastor is from hearty Minnesota stock.) Suffice to say, I have been wondering how the storm has been affecting churches all week.

Well, Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post comes through in a big way today. It’s a fairly straightforward headline — “Churches, worshipers also feel storms’ impact,” and Boorstein covers a lot of ground. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the storm would negatively affect church income, but that’s what Boorstein leads with:

Some say a snowstorm, with its power and beauty, settles the spirit. Tell that to Pastor Charlie Whitlow, whose Ashburn church is down about $100,000 in offerings, thanks to Mother Nature’s recent weekend romps.

Boorstein notes that Whitlow ended up doing his sermon for the week on the web from his living room. The story also has this lovely anecdote about a Jewish woman who struggles to find a minyan — a quorum of ten Jews — to mourn her father:

When she saw the blizzard, however, she thought of the 1990s TV show “Northern Exposure,” about a Jewish doctor living in Alaska, and the episode in which residents of the mostly American-Indian community scatter across a vast area to help him get the quota — called a “minyan” — so he could pray for his dead uncle.

Miller, who has lived in her Northwest Washington neighborhood for a couple years, sent a plea via the listserv of her 300-unit condo building. Within minutes, she had a few replies. One was from a neighbor who was in Philadelphia, saying he was also in mourning and offering to recite the prayer on her behalf at a synagogue there. By sundown, she had 11 people in her living room– the 10 required Jews and one non-Jewish neighbor with a cheesecake.

“Perhaps our paths will never cross again. Maybe, just maybe, we shared a moment of faith on the worst blizzard in a hundred years,” Miller, a rabbi and spiritual counselor, wrote in a letter of thanks. “The act of giving is an act of faith.”

Boorstein also goes through a litany of events that were cancelled by churches and discusses how the lost church income will be difficult to make up in a bad economy. It’s the kind of story that is often thankless work reporters, but it’s very informative bread-and-butter journalism.

That said, there were a few sins of omission I think are worth mentioning. For one, there was a church building in D.C. that collapsed last weekend when the roof caved in under the weight of the snow. This goes unmentioned. I would have liked to have known how church properties were holding up, what churches are doing for snow removal, etc.

And the other issue is that Boorstein doesn’t really address the issue of chartity at all. Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people in the area were without power. How did churches help families stay warm? Surely, they played a role. How is the harsh weather otherwise taxing church-related charities?

Here’s hoping for follow-up. There’s a good one waiting to be written.

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  • Herb Brasher

    Hmmm. If this is a big deal, then someone ought to do a news story on the number of church meetings that get canceled every year, and the lost revenue involved, because of just the threat of snow here in South Carolina, or all over the South, I expect. Yesterday evening again, but I guess not much lost on a Friday evening. I guess the threat of snow doesn’t collapse church roofs, either.

    Maybe there is an even bigger news (religion?) news story in the fact that, according to my wife, who was in the grocery store witnessing the smiling faces) that everyone suddenly became happy and gregarious because God made good on the threat–it snowed 3 inches in the Midlands. First time since 2000, I believe. We got together with the neighbors and built a snow man. Hey–church group was canceled!

    Our previous pastor was from Pittsburgh. He never canceled services; he would show up, even if nobody else did. Not so anymore.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Good story topic: Where churches stand on allowing members to give tithes and offerings via automatic withdrawals from financial institutions

    Unless a church has a strong theological against the practice, failing to embrace it causes wide variances in income during snowstorms, summer vacations, etc.

  • dalea

    I grew up in the Upper Midwest and share your former ideas on snow. What baffles me is I do not see people out shaking trees. You go outside with a long handled broom and shake branches so the snow falls off. This way overburdened branches do not break. This is a simple low tech way of coping with heavy snows. For power lines, throw snowballs to shake snow off. When I was a kid, CubScout troops used to do this in a semi-organized way. Saves a lot of downed lines if they don’t go down.

    Best of luck when this melts.

  • Jeff

    And the epidemic of church arson in east Texas? Still trying to find more about this . . .

  • Dana

    Some say a snowstorm, with its power and beauty, settles the spirit. Tell that to Pastor Charlie Whitlow, whose Ashburn church is down about $100,000 in offerings, thanks to Mother Nature’s recent weekend romps.

    $100,000 would be between 15 and 20 weeks total collection for our small parish.

  • Marie

    Protestants. I was stuck in Beltsville, MD (just outside the beltway) with my bf and the family he rents from. They had ‘home church’, but I did slomp through the snow and get to the Catholic Church a ways over, and they were in business. The family hosting me called ahead of my visit to make sure the RC church would be operating. As far as I know, most RC churches have priests on the premises, so despite the weather there is mass.
    What I noticed in the Post article was the only Roman Catholic item mentioned was the cancellation of a fund-raising effort. No mention that RC churches open for mass. I was curious if most RC churches were operational.