New Englanders were hopeful the end of February would mean an end to the onslaught of heavy snow and freezing temperatures. But hopes continued to be dashed the first week of March with more snow and more problems for the churches and businesses in the region. With more than 100 inches falling in the last several weeks, communities continue to move closer to the all-time record amount of snowfall for a single season.
The cost of snow removal and the closing of many businesses have put many communities in a critical state. Presbyterian Church leaders say they’ve begun losing track of how many churches are dealing with leaking ceilings, extraordinary bills for snow removal, and limited financial resources due to little or no offerings in the past month. At least two congregations have had to request emergency assistance ahead of the receipt of PDA funds simply because they could not wait.
One is a new worshiping community serving Brazilian immigrants in two different cities. The Presbyterian Church Shekinah Fellowship has baptized more than 20 adults in the past year alone and is growing quickly enough to consider finding their own space instead of sharing space with other renters.
“In February, they had to cancel seven different gatherings, and their offerings were 75 percent less than normal,” said Cindy Kohlmann, resource presbyter for the Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England. “This is a community that can’t simply make up the difference the next week; the members themselves are largely hourly workers who haven’t been working due to the weather and are struggling to care for their own families.”
The second congregation is First Presbyterian Church, a multicultural community in Worcester. Like the Brazilian fellowship, its membership is made up largely of hourly workers who have been off the job due to the weather. Heavy snow and some melting have caused some serious damage to facilities.
“We are a small congregation of 100 members and a budget of about $120,000 with very little savings,” says Rev. T.J. DeMarco, pastor. “We are still crunching the numbers, but we estimate the total cost of the snow is about $18,000, and we expect that number to increase. This includes the plowing bill of about $9,000, more than twice what we budgeted.”
The church hired workers to remove snow from the roof as well as away from the walls of the church in order to prevent leakage. “Two people called me to report it was ‘raining’ in our fellowship hall, due to snow dams on the roof that were too large to remove,” says DeMarco. “Insulation has been damaged and will need to be replaced. We also had to hire someone to remove about half of the drop ceiling in that large room. Moisture has been discovered in the walls of our sanctuary and other rooms, meaning wallboard and insulation will have to be removed to avoid mold growth. Insurance will cover some of these costs, but not all of them.”
Despite the crisis, DeMarco says the response from church members, the Presbytery of Boston, the Synod of the Northeast and the Presbyterian Mission Agency has been inspiring. He adds he’s never been more proud to be the pastor of this church and a minister in the PC(USA).
“We were thrilled to hear that the folks in the Presbyterian Mission Agency wanted to help, and we are asking members to give to a ‘snow fund’ to help cover our costs,” he says. “We are a mostly immigrant congregation, and none of us are wealthy, but I am confident that people are going to give generously.”
First Presbyterian Church in Worcester recently completed New Beginnings, in which PC(USA) officials assess the church’s ministry strengths and make recommendations to help it grow. Despite the snow, DeMarco said the church will move forward with plans to reach out to the community with a large international festival later this year.
Even as churches across the region wrestle with storm damage, Kohlmann says congregations have been active in caring for communities while dealing with limited resources.
“Attendance at local soup kitchens has been very high, requests at food pantries have exceeded available supplies, and the need for shelter in warming centers is critical,” Kohlmann said. “One church has asked for funds to purchase sleeping bags that are rated below zero degrees for teenagers who don’t feel safe sleeping in the same shelter as adults, and several churches are eager to bolster their feeding programs with denominational support.”
Last week, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance responded to the Synod of the Northeast’s request for disaster support services in the emergency relief and long-term recovery efforts in the affected presbyteries. Support is going toward snow removal, expenses, and support for pastors and congregations.
PDA National Response Team members will visit Boston later this month to meet with synod and other church leaders to assess the financial and ministerial needs, and will be meeting with the Presbytery of Boston on March 21, along with PDA Coordinator Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus.
Those wishing to support the recovery effort are asked to give through the One Great Hour of Sharing. Additional gifts can be made through Disaster Relief Fund DR000015.