When you’re tempted to stay in bed on rainy or cold Sunday mornings, remember the sacrifice of early generations. Februarys were exceedingly difficult, for example, in Puritan New England. Judge Samuel Sewall once noted in his diary after an unusually frigid Sunday that “the communion bread was frozen pretty hard and rattled sadly in the plates.”
Ministers were forced to preach while wrapped in layers of coats, heads covered with caps, and hands cased in heavy mittens. According to Sewall, one Puritan preacher in Kittery, Maine, used to send his servant to the meetinghouse to find out how many had braved the snow. If only six or seven had come, the servant would ask them to return with him to the parsonage and listen to the sermon there.
Another entry in Sewall’s diary tells of a bitterly cold day when there was a “Great Coughing” in the meetinghouse, yet a newborn was carried in to be baptized. In harshest weather, women brought to the church little foot stoves, filled with hot coals from home, around which children huddled by their mother’s feet beneath the pews. But after several churches burned down because of foot stoves left behind, their use grew controversial.
In some communities it was customary on coldest Sundays for worshipers to bring “doggs” to curl at their masters’ feet and keep them warm. A few of the men sometimes smuggled another kind of warmth into the church. One such gentleman imbibed too much, and his drunken snores so disrupted the sermon that the deacons dragged him off to the tavern.
In one of his journal entries, Judge Sewall tells of a winter’s Sunday when his friend, Rev. Michael Wigglesworth, preached from the verse in Psalm 147 that says, “Who can stand the cold?” By the next Sunday, the entire congregation was so afflicted with illness that services were canceled for three weeks. On February 20, 1698 services resumed and Wigglesworth prayed and preached from the words, “At his command the ice melts.” The very next day, a thaw set in. It was regarded as a direct answer to his prayer.
As soon as God speaks, the earth obeys.
He covers the ground with snow like a blanket of wool,
And he scatters frost like ashes on the ground.
God sends down hailstones like chips of rocks.
Who can stand the cold? (Psalm 147:15-17)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 20.