CHARLOTTESVILLE — John Rasor knows the routine: clear the parking lot stripes to make them visible, shovel and salt the sidewalks to the two entry doors, and have the building warm by the time people arrive.
After that, he can shed the coveralls he’s worn for the task and join the rest of the congregation at church.
Rasor and his son, Sean, do this many winter Sundays for Charlottesville United Methodist Church. A neighboring towing business offers to plow the lot, said the Rev. Marianne Nichols, and “Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised by a kind unknown person who salts and clears our walks and steps, as was the case (Jan. 7).”
But generally, the Rasors clear the walks, salt them and make sure the parking lot is clear and free of ice.
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“(It’s) so people can get in to go church,” John Rasor said. “I don’t want them falling down out there.
“It’s got to be done; just as well me do it.”
When the temperature plummets and church parking lots are covered by snow and ice, the Rasors and other volunteers at local houses of worship pitch in. They clear parking spaces, scatter salt on sidewalks and bundle up for outdoor tasks such as directing traffic or greeting at the door. Together they work to make sure the welcome remains warm, even if the weather outside isn’t.
From his post at the door of Fountaintown Christian Church, Ron Bright often beckons churchgoers in by reminding them they’ll be warmer inside.
It’s not warm for him to be stationed at the door, and the single-digit temperatures of early January are among the coldest he’s encountered in about six years as one of the church’s greeters.
But Bright comes prepared. He’s often wearing a cowboy hat. He bought it on a trip to Texas to reconnect with fellow Vietnam veterans.
“I’ve kind of decided it’s going to be like a signature,” he said. “If you put any kind of a hat on your head, it helps hold the warmth in.”
A sweater under his overcoat and a pair of gloves keep him ready to welcome fellow worshipers.
“One of our strengths of the church is that we’re friendly, and we try to bring everybody into our family as much as we can,” he said. “To me its just an important part … make people feel at home.”
George Scott has been at home at Curry’s Chapel United Methodist Church since his childhood. As a young boy, he would go to the church with his grandfather, Cleve Apple, to stoke the old coal furnace at the church north of Greenfield.
“I shoveled off quite a bit of snow in my time,” Scott recalls.
Some 70 years later, Scott’s shoveling days are past, but he still pitches in at church when the temperature drops.
He turns up the thermostat Saturday evenings and puts ice melt on the sidewalks to make it warm and safe for the congregation, said fellow church member Sharon Hunt.
It’s a different process from the coal furnace of decades past. Back then, Scott sometimes stayed at the church Saturday nights to make sure the furnace stayed lit.
“We had an old coal furnace,” he said. “I was afraid of the church burning down. I kept it going on Saturday nights.”
Eventually Scott urged the church to buy a new furnace. Some hesitated, he chuckles, and said the church wasn’t going to be around that much longer anyway. (He estimates this conversation happened more than 50 years ago.)
But he said others in the church took heed. The Ladies’ Club started a fund. “Within three weeks, they raised enough money to buy a new furnace, and new pews, and new hymnals,” Scott said.
The church remains to this day, and when Scott isn’t salting walks he attends to another task of welcome to the worshipers coming in from the frigid outdoors — ringing the church bell.
“I just refuse to leave,” Scott said. “I felt like that’s what the Lord wanted me to.”