Monday 2 February 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Groundhog Day

Well, well. Wasn’t that something? Now that #blizzardof2015 is long gone and we have survived yet another storm, I must remember to add this one to my extensive résumé. 

I notice how the social media referred to this storm — with a hashtag and omitted spacing. It’s yet another indication that we live in the age of Twitter. (You will remember, dear readers, that I had advised you of this trend in previous columns.) There was a time when only tropical storms and hurricanes were named. Now blizzards are also given names. After much detective work, I have uncovered the conspiratorial group responsible — the Winter Storm Naming Committee at the Weather Channel. They decided to call the storm “Juno.” 

I suppose #blizzardof2015 or “Juno” is better than previous appellations. Remember “Snowpocalpse?” Did I mention that among the 150 words accepted this year by the Merriam/Webster dictionary editors are “Snowmageddon,” “Rainocalpse” and “Floodgate?” I am particularly galled by the tendency to add the suffix “gate” to just about everything — “Deflatagate” for example. The Watergate scandal happened back in ’72. It was named after the five-building complex in which the dastardly deed took place. It’s high time we got over it. 

There was a great deal of hype in advance of this storm. One might say it was a veritable blizzard of hype, but I for one am not going to say it. This storm proved that the general public needs to keep abreast of threatening weather conditions. Information can save lives. And anyway, weather forecasts give you time to rush to the nearest store and stock up on bread and milk. I have yet to figure out why bread and milk suddenly become such precious commodities. I suppose that, if you also have eggs on hand, you could survive on French toast, but that’s just a theory. I prefer international French toast made with Portuguese sweet bread, but I digress.

I have seen many issues discussed at the Fall River priests’ senate/presbyteral council meetings. I sat on that committee for 20 years. One item I remember from decades ago was introduced by Msgr. Tom Harrington. At the time, Tom was the diocesan chancellor and chaplain of the Fall River Fire Department. He suggested that every parish have an emergency plan. Tom was ahead of his time. 

These days, pastors are routinely asked to describe the Church’s disaster plan. Have we identified an off-site location from which basic operation of the parish might continue? Is there a rescue plan for important Church documents, records, and Sacramental registers? Have these documents been copied or backed up? What about the Eucharist in the tabernacle and important Sacred objects? 

Prevention is worth a pound of cure — as Benjamin Franklin so wisely pointed out. Are there trees that need to be trimmed so that they don’t come crashing down onto a church building? Are parking lots and sidewalks cleared of snow, ice and debris in a timely fashion? (We are expected to keep a running log of all plowing and shoveling activities.) Are there shovels and ice melt readily available near the entrances for quick remedy? Are there mats inside the doors to prevent a slip hazard?  Does the parish complex have a back-up generator? (I’m a firm believer that no new church should ever be built without an emergency generator.)

There are other Church matters to be considered when a storm approaches. How to deal with Religious Education classes? Many parishes have a rule of thumb that if schools cancel or dismiss early, there will automatically be no catechism classes. It seems like a simple procedure, as long as everyone knows it. Also, telephone calls can be made or text messages sent to alert parents and students of the cancellation. Or, if you have obtained parents’ email address you can use that system. Television stations will often scroll cancellations and radio stations make “no class” announcements. The parish website can be used effectively to get the word out. And lastly, for those few parishes still using an answering machine, you could always record a taped message. 

What to do with previously scheduled Masses? Obvious, when a government official bans all non-emergency vehicles from the roads, one should avoid breaking the law in order to attend Mass. Otherwise, common sense is called for. “Common sense is not so common,” observed Mark Twain. This remains the case. I know of no diocesan guideline in this matter. Some parishes simply announce the cancellation of all Masses. I can’t bring myself to do this. After all, priests celebrate Holy Mass in war zones. I just encourage people to stay home. 

Now that #blizzardof2015 is history, there will eventually be another “weather event.” I wonder what it will be called. May I suggest “Snownado?” I’m going to trademark the word immediately. If I reserve all rights to “Snownado,” I stand a good chance of making a small fortune. It might even pay for plowing the church parking lot next time, but I doubt it. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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