Does your church have a plan for cancelling a service?

GO3838

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Last month, a group of us from my church were saying that maybe we should have a communication plan in place in case we ever needed to cancel a service due to inclement weather. (After all, we wouldn't want our members, many aging, to be driving in dangerous conditions.)

But the communication piece is problematic. We could sent out a mass tweet or email: "Service cancelled today due to weather. Please stay off roads and be safe.,:
but many church members don't use social media. I suppose we could create a phone fan. We could get church members to indicate whether they prefer to receive an email or a phone call, and then create a phone fan for those that don't have email.

It's 6:30 am as I write this, and there's about 25 cm of snow on the ground, and it's still coming down. I'm part of a team doing a lay worship service today. I'm sitting by my phone and email, wondering if we should go ahead or not, and realizing our church really needs a plan for this situation.

So moving forward, I'm going to try to take initiative to see that we create a communication plan for the future. But I'd love to hear other church's plans, if you have one. Thanks!
 

revjohn

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Phone tree in place to communicate any decision made in a hurry on account of weather.

We have only had to implement it once while I have been with this pastoral charge and that was a year ago last Christmas.

We had a storm. Relatively small by NL standards but still a good 15-20 cm of snow fell overnight. Knowing I had the longest commute I was up at 3am to blow out the driveway (I had blown it out at 10:30 about mid-way through the storm to make the job easier). Finished clearing the snow about 5am, had breakfast, showered and then was on the road by 7am.

At 7:30am my bluetooth took a call telling me that there was no way my mostly senior congregation was going to get their driveways cleared to attend service and our contractor who clears our lot had an equipment failure of his own to deal with. So, I turned around and went back home.

I was the only one who was inconvenienced by the lateness of the call and to be fair, I am in the office on Sunday morning early no matter the weather so they would have had to call Saturday night to prevent me from getting up that early to clear our driveway.

Of course I have a bigger snowblower now so I don't need nearly as much time to clear my drive. Unless it is wet snow then I need twice the time because of impeller jams.
 

Redbaron

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We have a phone tree in effect here, which has been used 2 or 3 times in 5 years. It works. Not all of our congregation uses social media. I suspect there are still some who think that touch-tone dialing is a passing novelty...
 

GO3838

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My goodness, revjohn, that's dedication to the job!

You say you got a call saying the service was cancelled. Does that mean you aren't part of a small team/committee that would decide that?

I'm thinking that the decision to cancel a service shouldn't be one person's alone, and I don't think it should be a large group either (not very efficient.)

But do you think the minister should be part of the a team of say 4 people to decide whether to cancel or not? (Maybe a team of the minister, chrch custodian, and 2 others?) Or would that be a conflict of interest for church staff?
 

KayTheCurler

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As a child two things didn't seem to get cancelled - church and school.

If the minister cannot possibly get to church maybe there should be a system for cancelling. I always assumed that people looked at the weather and made up their own mind. Sometimes the only person there would be the minister!
 

Mendalla

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We have a phone tree in effect here, which has been used 2 or 3 times in 5 years. It works. Not all of our congregation uses social media. I suspect there are still some who think that touch-tone dialing is a passing novelty...
I believe the UU fellowship used something similar to this. It was a fairly small group so they would put out notices via email. social media (they have both a closed FB group for internal discussion and a public FB page for publicity), and invoke the telephone tree. Not sure who made the call. The minister would be factor if it was their Sunday to lead but if not, probably the worship leader, service leader (when there was one), and maybe president or chair of worship.
 

Carolla

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We have used a combination of ways to be in touch re emergency closures - notice on church website; notice on church fb page; message on church phone when people call in; calling out (fan style) to some folks who requested that method. We have had weather closings; loss of water (ie no toilets etc would work); loss of electric power due to ice storm a few days earlier (so no light or heat); elevator not functioning (select list of those who need to know this in advance). Then of course it's very helpful to regularly let people know where & when to check for such notices!
 

BetteTheRed

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In my 20 some years at this congregation, I do not believe a service has ever been cancelled. The church is in town, on a well-plowed road, and until a decade ago, the manse was a 10 minute walk away.

And no, we don't have a policy in place for if were to so decide.
 

GO3838

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If the minister cannot possibly get to church maybe there should be a system for cancelling.
In my opinion, the minister's inability to get to the church doesn't automatically mean the worship service must be cancelled.

The minister might be snowed in, (or sick, or have a personal emergency,) but the service may have already been planned out in terms of hymns and prayers, so it may be easy enough for lay leaders to to conduct the service from the bulletin or powerpoint notes.
And especially if the minister is suddenly ill, I think it's good not to cancel the service, as then the minister is more likely to rest and not feel guilty about being sick, because the service is still happening.
 

GO3838

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In my 20 some years at this congregation, I do not believe a service has ever been cancelled. The church is in town, on a well-plowed road, and until a decade ago, the manse was a 10 minute walk away.
My church had a manse for decades as well. There was even a connecting door between the manse and the church, so the minster could walk from home to church without even stepping in the snow or freezing rain, so there was never a need to cancel a service because of inclement weather.

But the manse is sold, and fewer church members feel confident about tackling rough winter driving. And we live in an age where there's more sense of responsibility to the community, so a plan for communication of a service cancellation seems highly appropriate today.

So today, there was to be 6 of us leading the service today, and 2 emailed me they were snowed in. So the 4 of us easily did the servie, and there were 8 in the choir plus about 15 in the congregation, so I was really glad we didn't cancel.

But we still need a plan, so please continue to outline your plans if you have them - still looking for ideas.
 

mgagnonlv

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We talked about that and decided against doing anything formal.

Church attendance is not an absolute requirement, and being a downtown church, we have a fair number of people, including key leaders, who live in the area. All of our leaders have email and cell phones (as do most of our parishioners), so contacting all leaders to find substitutes is fairly easy. So basically we tell people "Don't endanger yourself to show up, but we will always be there".

In a nutshell, we have never closed the church, but we once had to get a substitute music team and had to replace some crew members because they couldn't join us to help with the Welcome or Coffee teams. In a worst case scenario, we might end up having a different service leader or even no sermon, but that has never happened. But we once had a Christmas eve service with 25 people instead of the usual 250!
 

GordW

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WE had a brief discussion in February after a couple Sundays where the temp was near -40. Decided against setting a policy. In our discussion it was noted the three important pieces to make clear in such a policy:
1) who makes the decision? In our case it was made clear by the clergyperson that he would NOT be the one to make that call
2) what clear criteria will cause a cancellation. Associated with this was "when would the call be made"
3) how could we communicate the information?

To me #3 is the big piece. Not only to know that the news has spread to those who are "normally" there but how do you communicate with those who just show up that day? One of those Sundays we had an infrequent attender who had walked several blocks to get to the church. That then becomes a whole different health and safety concern.
 

GO3838

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Gord W:

1) I agree that the decision should not be made by one person alone. I'm thinking three people, all of whom have texting phones, as texting would be faster than email. And one of them should be close to the church, so as to leave a sign on the door. Not sure if one of those three should be the minister, as that might be seen as a conflict of interest.

2)I'm not sure there has to be super clear criteria, as a group of lawyers would need. I'n thinking treacherous road and sidewalk conditions
would be the most important factor. If it's a "low volume" Sunday (a Sunday that tends to have low attendance) then that might factor into the decision as well. I think that if the service is at 10:00 am, then the call would have to be made by 8:30 am at the latest.

3) I'm thinking that there has to be a plan to spread the news. Perhaps poll the congregation in the fall, and explain that we're putting in a plan in case we need to cancel a service because of inclement weather. Circulate cards where they write their name, and check off whether they'd like to be notified by email or phone. (And emphasize only check phone if you have no email.) Generate the email group list ahead of time so it's ready if needed. Tell congregation decision would be made by 8:30 am.
 

GordW

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Actullky I meant I would not be a part of the decision making process, not that I would not make it alone. My perspective is that if I can get to teh building I will leaad worship so would never vote for closure.

As for point three no matter how good the communication process you can not connect with the people who 1) have no contact method listed with the church or 2) you do not know you need to contact.
 

GO3838

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True enough, GordW. We cannot connect with people we do not know we need to contact.

But leaving a sign on the door would cover that base, however galling that feels to us.

We don't like to think of someone coming out to church because they need it, and then finding a sign on a locked door.
Very disappointing, and we church members don't like to think of people disappointed like that.

But there may be a situation where that is the sensible, safest option, and a smalltown Ontario resident like me thinks my
church should have a plan for those (few) but fiercest of winter mornings.
 

Carolla

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Nothing will be foolproof - and we just have to give it our best effort. It's winter - locals probably have a means of knowing about the road conditions etc & would be encouraged to make their own judgements too about getting to church. If it seems unsafe to travel - don't. This would also need to extend to church staff, choir, the person with the key, etc. as people may travel from differing locales. I suppose reminders about that might be helpful going into the snowy season, to train the 'regulars' to check before leaving for church when the weather might seem 'iffy'.
 

ChemGal

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I think if there will be a closure, it's nice to notify as many non-regulars as possible.

If there is a notice about 'we may be closed during incliment weather, please check the website after X am Sunday to ensure service has not been cancelled' then someone who is new can find out as well. That assumes that someone is capable of updating the website on short notice though.
 

Mrs.Anteater

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Our local radio station has cancellation announcements on their website.
The UCC usually leaves a phone message on their answering machine as well.
Most people with mobility issues or people who don’t like to drive in this kind of weather stay at home anyway when the roads are bad. And at least in NS, the weather past, now and future is all people talk about, so nobody is really surprised.
 

revjohn

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GO3838 said:
But do you think the minister should be part of the a team of say 4 people to decide whether to cancel or not?
I typically consult with the Clerk of Session. Weather has to be pretty savage here in NL before we cancel.

I was up early because I know how much time I need to clear my drive and shower and such afterwards. Then I have the longest commute.

The direction of the wind combined with the amount of snow got the better of most of my parishioners. I wouldn't have known how bad it was out in Brigus until I got stopped in Avondale. Clerk of Session made the right call.

That said I had one clerk of session who thought weather was okay in Erie Presbytery and we did not cancel. He never bothered to look out his window.

I fought through freezing rain and drifted over roads to arrive at an unplowed lot. I shovelled the steps then went inside to towel off.

The clerk and his wife were the only two beside myself at the service and he was only there because his wife said if he was willing for me to risk my life over 30 km of bad road he could drive 300 m of bad road.

He was appropriately sheepish in apology.

Never had that problem again.
 

GordW

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Around here, even on snow days or cold weather days (school buses do not run at -40) the schools remain open as a public safety thing. I think the same holds for the church. To have someone walk several blocks in extreme cold weather and not be able to get inside to warm up is not just a disappointment--it is a safety issue. WE may end up looking around and deciding to alter the morning plan but the church needs to be open.
 
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