Frozen

Tuesday 1 March 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — “Super Tuesday” state primaries 

No, dear readers, I’m not about to review the Disney film but rather to reflect on how a “polar vortex” impacts parish life.

An arctic wind swept in on Presidents Day weekend. The plummeting temperatures broke all records. The temperature on Cape Cod felt like minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that weather directly impacts weekend Mass attendance (my nephew objects to me using that cliché. He happens to be a rocket scientist). In several parishes in which I have served, it was customary to note the weather conditions on the weekend bank deposit slips, thus explaining the shortfall. 

I received a phone call that frigid Sunday morning inquiring if Masses had been canceled. The answer is always no. We do not cancel Masses here because of weather conditions. There’s no need. A priest can get from his bedroom to the Sanctuary without even stepping outdoors. This is due to the foresight of those who designed and built this parish complex. Most parish priests don’t have the luxury. 

Come Heaven or high water, Mass will be celebrated as scheduled. As to whether or not people should leave the safety of their homes is another question. That is a decision that requires common sense. 

I’m acclimated to frigid weather. The rare arctic blast that sometimes reaches Cape Cod must first pass through Canada. I spent four long winters at a seminary in Ontario, Canada. Howling winter winds and subzero temperatures didn’t deserve even a passing comment. I stayed warm in my army surplus snorkel jacket. Unfortunately, my pet greyhound long ago chewed the rabbit-fur trim off the hood. I sure could use that old coat now.

As the exceptionally cold weather approached, parishes received from headquarters a checklist of recommendations to assure that church properties were properly protected. It’s part of my job description, it seems. They don’t teach you that in the seminary.

This particular church property has areas that have proven problematic in the past. One is the laundry room. This is an add-on. By the time heat gets to the end of the line, there’s little left of it.

Once I had to use a hair dryer to thaw the frozen pipes of the clothes washer (none of the priests had a hair dryer; I bought one at the drugstore across the street).

Leave the faucet in the laundry room dripping. Check. As a backup, there’s always St. John Nepomucene (invoked for protection against floods). Check.

Another problematic area is the rectory’s first-floor bathroom. For reasons unknown to me, it was built without a heat source. In February, it can be colder than an outhouse in Alaska. It does, however, have central air conditioning. That’s not helpful in a polar vortex. 

The water pipes in that area had once frozen and burst. Come to find out, an under-insulated crawl space opened directly to the outside. Additional insulation was installed. Leave the bathroom faucet dripping. Check. Pray to St. Columbanus (also in charge of floods). Check.

Another trouble spot is the church hall. The emergency fire sprinklers froze one winter and flooded the room with several inches of water. It seems uninsulated pipes were exposed to outside air. Who knew? The water damage was repaired and insulation installed.

What to do in this cold spell? I keep my fingers crossed and invoke the intercession of St. Florian, patron saint of floods and fires. He can take care of both issues. Check.

The rectory proper was built long ago. When the wind blows, the curtains flutter. Somebody installed replacement windows, but many of them no longer close properly. Father Ray Cambra has found that if you pull the shades, the breeze is redirected to the floor. 

At 94, Father Francis X. Wallace is as old as the Lincoln Memorial. Naturally he’s always cold. Turning the thermostat up to 75 degrees does little to warm him. In weather like this, he wears a coat indoors. 

I had the rectory fireplace checked. The chimneysweep told me it had hardly ever been used. We could light it safely should the electric go out. At least we would have a source of heat. As an added benefit, we could perhaps all sit around roasting marshmallows; on second thought, maybe not. 

The church itself has a modern heating system, but the ancient and energy inefficient building makes it almost impossible to regulate the indoor temperature. I just hope people wear warm winter coats to Mass. 

Then there’s our summer chapel on Falmouth Harbor. No need to worry about the heat. It has no heating system. In the autumn, I just make sure the water pipes are drained and winterized. Then I hope for the best. 

There came an overnight thaw. Early in the morning, Father Wallace woke me. “Tim! Tim! There’s a geyser flooding the laundry room! Saints preserve us!” “I’ve already invoked the saints, Father,” I responded. “Apparently it didn’t work.”

 I found myself humming, “Let it go, let it go,” as I appraised the latest catastrophic situation.

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

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