Church in the New England Snow
a reflection by Vicar Niki Harvell (Class of 2017)
It is no secret that New England has been continuously covered with snow this winter. As snow banks piled up to form mountain ranges and the snow in our yards rising to meet the window ledges — and another snowstorm seeming to appear in every weather forecast — many churches in New England have been called on to get creative with worship services to reach their communities. St. Mark Lutheran Church, Norwich, Connecticut, has also had to adapt ministry as a result of unceasing snow.
One of the concerns that leaders at St. Mark had in this harsh winter is, of course, the safety of those traveling to the church in winter weather. After having to cancel services two Sundays in a row, we did not get discouraged, but instead got creative. Sharing in the word of God is important in our community, so one way we adapted from closure was to post a video reflection. When I went to close up the church on the first Sunday of Lent, I looked out into an empty sanctuary filled with pews, but no people. I missed the community that would normally be gathered there, so I did something new. I opened up my computer, rested it on a temporarily empty pew, and sat on the pulpit. I had no fancy robe on, no collared clergy shirt, and my sermon was back home on the nightstand, but I recorded a reflection anyway. More accurately, it was holy rambling to encourage reflection and discussion around the transfiguration of our Lord and the first Sunday of Lent. As I talked to a computer screen, my feet dangling from the pulpit where they used to stand and preach, I felt a different kind of community (you can watch the video below). Although I did not know what the response would be, or even if people would click the link to watch the video that morning, I trusted that God was working in new and unknown ways. This video reflection turned out to be a wonderful support, a needed connection among those at St. Mark, and received much positive feedback. Who wouldn’t like church in their pajamas with a cup of coffee?
We also missed sharing in Holy Communion together, and for some people who have difficulty shoveling and clearing out the feet of snow to get to the church, it has been more than just those two weeks. This again became an opportunity to be a church extended. Our team of Eucharistic ministers made an extra effort to bring communion to homes of members who had been snowed in, and even the youth got to learn what it means to bring the sacrament of communion into people’s homes. This experience reminded them that the church is not contained inside the building — the love of God and forgiveness of Jesus is not limited to the altar, but is carried with us when we go out to serve.
Finally, as we all looked forward to being bundled up in blankets in our homes, this harsh winter season has been another reminder that not all people in our local community have homes to be snowed into. This has opened up a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with other churches in Norwich to create new ways to be the church outside. We are discerning and preparing ways to serve and worship together, by bringing our small community outside the walls of St.Mark into the local food pantry and homeless shelters. As we journey day by day through this Lenten season, we are especially reminded that ministry is not always going to take place inside the building, but is constantly happening all around us. The piles of snow that reach above the heads of our teens have caused us to close the building, but not the church. The church of St.Mark is the community that gathers to love and serve the Lord, even if that is in a shelter, at the food pantry, or even on YouTube. So, just maybe all this snow isn’t a bad thing after all. Maybe it has been just the help we needed to remember what it truly means to be church.
Niki Harvell is serving St. Mark Lutheran Church in Norwich, Connecticut, as vicar while continuing her education at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia as part of the new Master of Divinity — Cooperative Model. The Co-Op program selects students to serve their internship in a congregation at the same time as they complete their academics, enabling them to fulfill MDiv degree requirements in three years. Originally from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, her home congregation is Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Westborough, Massachusetts, and she attended Anna Maria College, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry. In addition to English, she also speaks Spanish and American Sign Language and enjoys the opportunities these gifts present to meet new people in the community. She has a passionate energy for youth ministry and building relationships with people. In a world that is constantly transforming, the places and ways in which we meet God are also transforming, and Niki enjoys seeking out new ways in ministry. While there is not too much free time traveling between Connecticut and Philadelphia, she enjoys taking time to read and write, play the violin, and spend time with family and friends. Of course, as a dedicated Boston sports fan, you can be sure that she has the latest Patriots or Red Sox game streaming live on her phone!
pulpit photo by Rick Neundorf; other photos courtesy Niki Harvell