Funeral home shelters worshippers in storm


McAlester-First secured a most unusual place for Sunday worship, when record snowfalls in early February forced many churches across the state to forego services.

The downtown church building sits atop a steep hill. The combination of snow, ice, and steep grade threatened to keep away even the bravest members. On Friday (Feb. 4), Senior Pastor Charles Neff and Associate Pastor Ruth Atterberry acted to find an alternate site.

They moved the Sunday morning worship service down the hill—to Bishop’s Funeral Home. The facility offers a 150-seat chapel, level parking, and easy access.

"The folks at Bishop’s were so gracious to invite us in to hold services," said Rev. Dr. Neff. "They made it possible for us to worship despite the weather."

More than 80 members and guests attended.

"We were blown away by the attendance," said Rev. Atterberry. "There were folks of all ages, from newborns to elderly. The little chapel felt quite full."

"Some may have come for the novelty," Neff said, "while I know others who shied away. The creep factor in moving to a funeral home was certainly a concern, but I remembered the early Christians in Rome worshipped weekly in the catacombs. They were undaunted by their surroundings because as Christians they believed that, through the resurrected Jesus, death was overcome.

"We got a little taste of that for ourselves. It was an enriching experience."

The pastors said transforming the space for Sunday worship was simple. Furniture was rearranged; a cross, candlesticks, and altar cloths were brought from the church. A video projector and screen displayed the hymns and Communion liturgy.


Whatever the weather, do you have a plan?

In the story above, one Oklahoma church secured a way to continue ministry amid February’s record snowfall and cold temperatures. That choice was impossible for many other churches and ministry sites.

  • Asbury UMC in Tulsa, with the largest membership in the state, was forced to cancel Sunday services.

  • The warehouse roof collapsed under the snow’s weight at Restore Hope Ministries, which assists the poor in Tulsa.

  • Water flooded part of New Hope UMC in Oklahoma City after pipes froze and burst.

Before all that snow melted, Oklahomans were being warned of wildfire dangers due to extreme drought and high winds. Now the calendar shows a new month—taking us into tornado season.

Is your church prepared for a weather disaster?

This winter’s challenges make obvious the need for advance planning in Oklahoma to cope with a wide range of weather events.

Your church can get help to prepare a response plan through Volunteers In Mission (VIM) and The United Methodist Church’s Property and Casualty Trust (UMC PACT).

  • "Developing a Local Church Disaster Plan," a free VIM resource, can be downloaded online. Follow the Disaster Response links at  Among the brochure’s points: identify vulnerable populations within the church and the community, establish alternate meeting sites, back-up all important data, and review insurance coverage.

  • Education and information from PACT is online, at  "Emergency Preparedness for Your Church" is one title.

Rick Carlin, program administrator for the Oklahoma Conference insurance plan for churches within the PACT coverage, said, "I hope you will take advantage of all the resources available to you to make your church a safe and secure place."

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