Two weeks after this snow record-breaking month began, there is still snow on the ground at my farm. Probably at your house too. Maybe in some dark corner of your yard, or in the last remnants of the igloo you built, or by your driveway where the snow plow left enough of a pile to guarantee that it would last awhile. When snow started falling that Sunday evening almost three weeks ago we didn’t realize it was the beginning of a long “home bound” stretch. By the time it was over we had slipped and slid through half of February and some schools had yet to hold a full day of school for the month.
So we all have snow stories. Some include delightful family time for sledding and playing, and neighbors gathering to entertain or to help. Some include the stress of no power or no water. Some are stories of accidents or loss. All of them are reflections of the substance of our lives.
On the second Monday of our snow storms one of our public radio stations, KUOW, hosted an hour for listeners to call in with their snow stories. And though I almost never do it, this time I felt compelled to call in with mine.
The previous Friday night and all day Saturday was when the biggest storm had passed through. Scheduled at my church that weekend had been a party, a memorial service, and a worship service that included an enacted telling of a refugee story. The first event to be rescheduled was the party. It was pretty clear by Friday that almost no one would be venturing out for it, even with the lure of a chocolate fountain. By Saturday we also had to reschedule the memorial service. But we were still hoping we wouldn’t have to keep the building closed on Sunday.
Saturday afternoon, though, with snow still falling and many streets impassable, with the city of Seattle asking people not to drive unless they absolutely had to, and with two of the three pastors snow bound (me on Whidbey Island and Amy at the bottom of an uncleared icy road) we decided we could not have worship together on Sunday.
At that point I thought that was it. “Send out the word that worship at our building is cancelled,” our leadership decided. “Then remind people that they can worship wherever they are. We just won’t be together.” I settled in for another snow day.
Our youth minister Margaret Swanson, though, had another idea. She texted me, “Why don’t we do a Facebook worship service. You could lead it from your farm.”
“Wait, what?” I thought. I had never done a Facebook live event. I didn’t think I could. But with Margaret’s gentle encouragement and support, I began to figure it out. It wasn’t until Sunday morning, about a half hour before our scheduled start of 10:00, that I was able to post the announcement. “Join me for a brief worship service on Facebook, live streaming from the farm.” Margaret and others spread the word.
Then, at 9:59, Meighan, another Seattle preacher who was also stranded at my farm, held the phone, pushed the button that said, “Live,” and I started talking. I said a few words of greeting and about “Feeding sheep”- the ways we are fed spiritually, and the very real need for me to set hay out for the sheep in this snowy season. Meighan talked too, about the awe and beauty all around us.
People started commenting on the Facebook page, greeting one another, telling their own stories, giving me direction (we want to see more of the sheep) and even typing in “Amen” as we prayed together for each other and our world.
The whole thing lasted less than fifteen minutes. By the time we were done, over seventy household had joined in. We had made a connection with one another even though we were far apart.
I was so glad we gave this experiment a try. I learned again how valuable our connections are. As some have said since then, “I didn’t realize how much I take the Sunday community and worship time for granted until suddenly it wasn’t there.”
That’s what I told the KUOW host when I called in. About the surprise of making community together, even when we couldn’t actually be together. About how much it meant to me to hear from those I usually gather with on Sundays, and even from those a long way away who joined us because they could do it virtually. About being surprised by church.
I learned so much during this snow season. I learned again the value of heat in the pump house, and how much I miss running water when frozen pipes break. I learned again the value of good neighbors who help each other out. And I learned again the value of gathering, every week, with a community of people who share the same stories, and have a heart for love and justice.
Two Sundays ago, I did not want to miss church. I thought I would have to. Then, I was surprised by the possibilities of connecting even if we can’t be together. So this last Sunday, when we gathered again in person, in our building, I felt an extra amount of gratitude for the fact that we were together again.