by Rev. C.F. McDowell, III
I write this reflection, The Advent Weather Radar, based on how I have witnessed
weather events during recent Advent seasons. I reflect on what seems to have settled in as
normal but extreme weather experiences during the month of December. I offer testimony
from the last four years based specifically on “my little corner of the world” that stretches along the Highway 74 East bypass in North Carolina from Rockingham to Fairmont.
In January of 2020 I began my service as the part-time pastor of First Presbyterian
Church of Fairmont (Robeson County), and later that year established my residency and home
in Rockingham (Richmond County). The two communities are 60 miles apart, and I travel from
Rockingham to Fairmont and back each Sunday on Highway 74. Our Advent worship at First
Presbyterian Church in all four seasons of my tenure has been impacted by extreme and severe weather, and this article is my reflection of how it has.
In my first Advent season (2020), we scheduled and planned a Christmas Eve service.
On the day of that December 24 th service, the church’s leadership body, the Session, made the decision to cancel the service due to the forecast of severe weather, including tornadoes, in that part of Robeson County throughout that day and evening.
On the fourth Sunday (December 19th) of my second Advent season at the church
(2021), I began my usual journey from Rockingham to Fairmont at 9:30 a.m. Severe weather
had been forecast for that morning, and when I left Rockingham, I found myself driving in heavy rain and thunderstorms. Not far into my trip, I was forced to pull off the highway because I could not see and driving was very treacherous. After several minutes I was able to resume my travel, and 30 miles down Highway 74 on the eastern side of Scotland County, I could see more intense storms brewing and was very concerned that I was seeing the formation of tornadoes just to the south of where I was traveling. Thankfully, I arrived safely at the church, however, it is the only Sunday in four years I have been late in arriving for the worship service.
During my third Advent season (2022), extreme cold temperatures settled in North
Carolina during the third week of December. This did not lead to the cancelation of any
services, but it caused a necessary change in our Christmas Eve Service. I had planned for the
conclusion of the service to be the congregation recessing to the front sidewalk of the church
with lighted candles and the singing of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and Joy to the World. It
was just too cold to do that, so we concluded the service inside of the sanctuary.
My final weather reflection is about the third Sunday of Advent (December 17th) in my
fourth Advent season (2023). As I left Rockingham for Fairmont, heavy rain began as I started
driving east on Highway 74. I became concerned about continuing the trip and exited the
bypass. Upon calling a church leader in Fairmont, I learned it was raining just as significantly
there. This led to my phone consultation with the three members of the Session, and the
decision was made to cancel the service for the sake of the safety of the members who would
be coming to the church in that rain, including myself.
I conclude this reflection by giving assurance that despite extreme and severe weather
seeming to become normal during December, our congregation’s excitement and observance
of Advent has NOT been dampened. However, we must and will be prepared to anticipate
extreme weather along with the birth of the Christ-child during Advent 2024 and each season in the future.
Rev. C. F. McDowell, III, Pastor
First Presbyterian Church
Fairmont, North Carolina