A church picnic and a thunderstorm

Anytime a church proposes an outdoor event, there is a weather risk. On Sunday, June 12 a farewell picnic lunch was planned for our retiring senior pastor.

For a few minutes on the morning of Sunday, June 5, I sat on the steps in front of the Welcome Center at our church. Trinity member, Mike McCullough, was walking up the steps. He stopped to chat.

We both commented about the weather on this Sunday morning—it was perfect. Nice sky, comfortable temperature, and that’s when I made my mistake. I said to Mike, “I hope next Sunday will be this nice.”

Weeks of planning go into putting together a retirement picnic lunch. Ideas bounce out of the minds of staff parish members, the church staff, and assorted committees. Gradually, some ideas begin to find traction. A consensus is reached. Assignments are given.

Communication goes out to the congregation. Some of that chatter is not designed for the ears or eyes of the senior pastor. This clandestine work comes together, and so do the other pieces for catering, volunteers, and logistics.

Of course tucked away in the minds of the planners is the matter beyond the control of these control freaks who have blueprinted every piece of this celebration except—the weather.

At 2:30 on the afternoon of Friday, June 10, a team of determined women: Teresa Given, Anne Burch, Sarah Shutt, and Christine Helms arrived to do preliminary staging of tables and chairs.

Just as we were starting this staging, Sunday’s weather forecast became a topic. The word “iffy” was used. I tried to downplay this weather fretting.

With an assist from Associate Pastor, Hung Su Lim, a good foundation of tables and chairs were staged and covered in front of the Welcome Center.

Staged tables and chairs from Friday afternoon Photo Bill Pike

The staging went well on Friday afternoon. We had another crew for setting up on Sunday morning.

No wayward soul came by on Friday or Saturday evening to play with the sleeping chairs and tables. But early Sunday morning, an unwanted intruder arrived—a steady shower of rain. Now, the Friday afternoon fretters were privately whispering—“I told you so.”

A bit after 8 that morning the sky was a puffy gray. Yet, we were still holding firm to our outdoor plans. Weather forecasters gave us a break in the weather at some point after 11.

Mary Neary, her husband, J.D., and Eric Zimmerman wrestled another chair cart from Trinity Hall to the picnic area. Light raindrops were being squeezed out of the gray ceiling. They parked the chair cart under the overhanging branches of a tree.

Left front Mary Neary, back left J.D. Neary, and right front Eric Zimmerman. Photo Bill Pike

Our one worship service of the day at 10 was quickly approaching. At the same time, local radar was beginning to look bleak.

Above the church’s steeple, a conspiracy was brewing. Up drafts and down drafts of unsettled air currents were shifting and colliding. Clouds were thickening. The darker they became meant humidity and dew points were forming massive raindrops.

As the ten o’clock service was underway, thunder rumbled in the distance. Within the next few minutes, the fury of a severe thunderstorm warning would be upon us.

We quickly shifted energy to Trinity Hall. Here more volunteers set up tables, chairs, and serving lines. The rain pounded. Sharp lightning flashed. Instantly, the lightning was followed by loud clapping thunder.

More lightning, the lights for the entire church flashed off. Several seconds ticked. The lights made a feeble attempt to return. Their attempt was thwarted by another big blast of lightning and immediate thunder. Minus emergency lighting, Trinity Hall went dark.

In a neighborhood known for losing power during intense weather, this wasn’t a good sign. More seconds ticked. I guess God must have felt bad for us as the lights slowly flickered back to life. HVAC motors in mechanical rooms struggled to regain their circular whirring. But gradually, they came back on line.

Slowly, winds aloft began to push the mean storm out of the neighborhood.

I left Trinity Hall to check other parts of the building.

In the Welcome Center, it was reported to me that a wind whipped tree limb came too close to a power line in the yard of one of the houses across Forest Avenue. This collision caused a quick, intense flare up of a bright orange flame. Observers from the Welcome Center believed the house had been hit by lightning

I was anxious to check Eaton Hall, the original fellowship hall below the Sanctuary. Sometimes that old fortress doesn’t like downpours from fierce thunderstorms.

Sure enough, a drain in the landing of an exterior stairwell had misbehaved. Rainwater was intruding under the thresholds of two doors in that area.

The worship service ran a bit long. But eventually, it ended. The congregation was directed to Trinity Hall where thanks to our volunteers everything was ready.

A few years ago, the Trustees put a new roof on Trinity Hall. That was a brilliant decision. Otherwise, this now indoor picnic would have included rain puddles on its floor.

Trinity Hall was packed. The presentations to our retiring pastor, Larry and his wife, Amy, went off without a hitch.

And during this time of fellowship, I noticed something else—the congregation, the church was at peace. I wish we could bottle that peace.

Eventually, the picnic came to an end.

Another crew of volunteers started the cleanup process. Trash cans were emptied, tables and chairs returned to their resting places. Miraculously, the volunteers even gathered up the pre-staged tables and chairs in front of the Welcome Center.

I walked down to Eaton Hall to start the drying out process. I am thankful for two inventions— the wet vacuum and fans.

And, I reflect some more. Even though I don’t always understand the thinking of the good Lord, I will say his timing this morning was perfect.

Despite the inconveniences the thunderstorm created for the planning team and the neighborhood, that storm forced us to make a decision—move the picnic inside.

Perhaps, James 1:5 sums up our situation this morning the best: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

This morning, we experienced the good Lord’s generous wisdom, and I’m thankful we did.

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