Lessons from the Blizzard of ‘09

I left work this past Thursday evening around 7:00pm after a long day of finishing up plans for this past weekend’s lessons and carols services. It had been a long and busy week, preparing for what are probably the most musically intensive services of the year for the worship team and me. I was tired but really excited for the weekend.

I got in my car, turned on the news station (I’m a news junkie, by the way), and was quite surprised to hear that a major east-coast blizzard was forecast to bombard the Washington D.C. area with two feet of snow beginning late Friday night and continuing into Sunday morning.

By Friday morning it was clear that this blizzard was indeed going to give us a direct hit – and that the services for which I had prepared so diligently were most likely going to be snowed out. Sure enough, on Saturday afternoon, with snow falling at a rate of 4 inches per hour, the decision was made to cancel all weekend services.

Many of you who read this blog will never have to deal with a blizzard forcing your church to cancel all weekend services. (Jonathan in the Philippines – I’m thinking about you.) But whether it’s a blizzard or a hurricane, are you prepared for a weather emergency?

(This isn’t the most exciting question that worship leaders face, but it just happens to be on my mind today.)

In those rare circumstances, a worship leader needs to be able to keep his volunteers informed, stay (very) flexible, and remember that God is sovereign. Our planning and preparation are critically important, but we need to hold to them loosely.

A few other practical tips for dealing with service-altering weather events:

Be prepared to lose your email capability
On Friday morning, I realized I didn’t have one of my vocalist’s cell phone numbers. I emailed her and asked for it, just in case I needed it. Sure enough, on Saturday afternoon in the middle of the blizzard, our church email servers went down. But since I had everyone’s phone number, I was still able to communicate the news that all services were canceled. My email is still down, by the way.

Stay cool (no pun intended)
I stayed late every night last week. 2,000 bulletins were printed. Extra equipment had been rented and set up in the Sanctuary. A ton of administrative work had been done. Special arrangements had been written. Hours of rehearsal had been spent. But then along came a blizzard.

If I had been given the opportunity to pick one weekend when a blizzard would cause all services to be canceled, this past weekend would have been very last on my list. But I didn’t have that opportunity. There was nothing I could do. Stressing out about it and lamenting the timing of the blizzard would be futile.

Stay flexible
A number of things could have happened this past weekend. We could have canceled the Saturday service but kept the Sunday services. We could have had only one combined Sunday morning service. We could have canceled all weekend services except for Sunday evening. I had no idea. No one did. One thing I did know for certain was that this weekend was not going to be normal and I was definitely going to have to adjust my plans somehow.

Don’t let your preparation go to waste
The songs and arrangements I had intended to use this past Sunday? I’m totally using them this coming Sunday. The bulletins we printed for the lessons and carols services? I’m putting them in a box and using them next year. (It helps that we didn’t put dates on them). The lyric projection files? Saved. The hours we spent rehearsing? They made us better musicians.

This time last week I was preparing for services that would never happen. Now I’m preparing for Christmas Eve services, end-of-December services, and first weekend of January services. They’ll probably happen as scheduled, but they may not. If they happen or if they get snowed out, I’ll try to be as prepared and ready as I can.

Photos of The Falls Church taken by Justin Wills. Used by permission.

One thought on “Lessons from the Blizzard of ‘09

  1. Jonathan Las December 22, 2009 / 12:59 am

    Such a pleasant surprise I found my name mentioned in your blog!

    At Greenhills Christian Fellowship, we have as a church the strangest policy– never cancel services. So, regardless of circumstances, as long as people show up in church, we meet for worship.

    Last October, a category five typhoon hit us that flooded half of Metro Manila and I had to brave the storm to lead worship (surprisingly, 1500 of the 4500 congregants were present, good enough to hold services) because the house of the assigned leader of the day soaked in chest-high waters. That’s just one of the few Sundays we were hit by major storms and we still met.

    A couple of years ago, we had what is known in history as the Oakwood Mutiny- disgruntled military personnel took over the Oakwood Hotel five miles south of us, and was staging what could have been a prelude to a coup d’etat. Roads were empty, but people still showed up so we still met in worship! I remember the church praying for the military men that Sunday morning. And you would not believe this, but most of those men became Christians- one of them is now being “discipled” by one of our elders- (http://jonlas.xanga.com/678338050/everything-else-that-really-matters-falls-out-from-that/).

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