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Irene cancels Catholic, LDS, Baptist services

Published: Monday, Aug. 29 2011 2:29 p.m. MDT

In the face of dangerous conditions associated with Hurricane Irene's fierce winds and driving rain, many churches in the eastern United States had to close their doors and urge members of their respective congregations to stay home.

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said worship services were canceled by a number of congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — known as wards and branches — in the area yesterday.

"Opportunities to serve others, power outages, unsafe travel conditions and requests from local emergency managers for residents to stay put were all factors considered by local leaders in making the decision to cancel Sunday meetings," Trotter said.

In New York, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan excused area Catholics from attending Mass if the hurricane made travel unsafe.

"Catholics take Sunday mass very seriously, but the Church never asks us to risk our health or safety to get to church on the Lord's Day," Archbishop Dolan said in a statement released Saturday. "Please be careful! Do not take any chance with your safety and health if things get dangerous."

That said, he also pointed out that the church's extensive resources, including schools, parishes, Catholic Charities, health care institutions and other residential facilities were open and ready to assist wherever needed. Other churches throughout the New York City area also opened their doors for use as shelters for those in need.

The Asbury Park, N.J., Press reported that "the hurricane caused many congregations to cancel Sunday services."

For example, the Rev. George Hancock-Stefan, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., fully intended to hold Sunday services as usual, regardless of the weather. But on Saturday he counseled with local firefighters and police officers. "They said, 'We can't tell you what to do, but we would prefer if people didn't travel on Sunday morning,' so we canceled church services for Sunday."

Over at the St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Bay Head, N.J., church officials didn't have that option: the pastor and congregation were all under mandatory evacuation orders.

The Boston Globe reported that while many area churches held Sunday services as usual despite the wind and the rain, other churches "took the unusual step of canceling or curtailing worship services . . . One small church in the Merrimack Valley turned to Facebook for divine intervention."

The Calvary Baptist Church in Haverhill, Mass., also used technology as a way to fill in the gap for members after canceling Sunday services. Church leaders posted online a video of one of their choirs singing Psalm 91, and then emailed the words of the Psalm to members of their congregation, asking them to meditate on the scripture: "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

"We really felt it was a good way to reach out to (members) on a day when we couldn't gather," the Rev. Gregory Thomas said of the e-mail outreach.

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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