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Alle-Kiski Valley churches don't fear Sunday ice storm fallout

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009

Although freezing rain was crippling the region's roads, many churches went ahead with morning worship on Sunday.

But whether they were closed or preaching to significantly reduced flocks, church leaders said they don't expect their collections to suffer during this holiday season.

Three Catholic churches in New Kensington — Mt. St. Peter, St. Joseph and St. Mary of Czestochowa — and Lower Burrell's St. Margaret Mary were among those that had services that morning, Jerry Zufelt, a spokesman for the Diocese of Greensburg, said Tuesday.

To open or close during severe weather is a local decision for each of the diocese's 85 churches, he said.

Monsignor James Gaston, pastor of St. Margaret Mary, said parishioners were coming to Mass before the church realized how bad conditions were getting.

A person coming for the 8 a.m. Mass — the first of three — crashed and seriously damaged their car while turning from Leechburg Road into the parking lot, he said.

Gaston said there was no intention of canceling services.

"We don't do that," he said. "We wouldn't have been able to get the word out anyway."

Although attendance was down by several hundred, Gaston said he didn't expect there to be a significant impact on collections.

"I am amazed that people do come out for worship under such dire circumstances," Gaston said. "In some cases, it's noteworthy and it is virtuous. In some cases, it may not be wise, depending on the circumstances.

"People always have to use good judgment. There is no obligation if it is impossible to get to services.

"God does not expect the impossible, and we shouldn't, either."

Evangel Heights Assembly of God in Buffalo Township was among those that did cancel services.

By 8:30 a.m., the church made the call to cancel it's 10 a.m. service, which was to have included its Christmas program, said Pastor Lorna Albanese. The last time that happened was during the Blizzard of 1993.

"It kind of snuck up on some people," Albanese said. "When you looked out your window, it didn't look that bad."

To get the word out, Albanese said the church notified local television stations and changed its phone message. Albanese said she was texting people and even using Facebook to get word out.

The Christmas program was postponed until this Sunday. Although the church missed its Sunday offering, Albanese said she's confident the missed collection will be made up for this week.

"I think the Lord is going to take care of our needs," she said. "One way or the other, God is going to take care of us."

Harvest Baptist Church in Fawn didn't cancel its service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, but attendance for the worship that normally numbers around 800 was only about 130, said Casey Casillas, a receptionist.

"Our general policy is we don't cancel service. We understand if people can't come," she said. "We don't ever actually cancel just to give people an opportunity to come. Some people live really close, literally down the street, and we don't want to not have service because some can't come as easily."

But, Casillas said, attendance at the evening service at 6 p.m. Sunday was higher than usual. She said she knew of several people who attended in the evening who normally would've been there in the morning.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the diocese didn't have any information on how many of its churches called off services versus Sunday.

To open or close is a decision for each church to make, he said.

"Typically we don't close. We stay open for whoever comes," Lengwin said. "A lot of people walk."

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