"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

  • Alistair Brown
  • Feb 10, 2011
  • Category: Northern
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There are problems, and then there are big problems.  Last week’s severe blizzard gave Northern Seminary one of those big problems.

From mid afternoon on Tuesday (February 1st) through to mid day on Wednesday, heavy snow fell driven by strong winds.  The official snowfall as recorded at O'Hare Airport was 20.2 inches, making it the third largest snowfall in Chicago's history.  With drifting and severely low temperatures it felt much worse than those figures.  This area has an average annual snowfall of 38.2 inches, so over half of that average fell during that night (and took this year’s total to well past 50 inches).  Alison, my wife, was keeping an eye on Weather Channel reports and commented that it was colder outside than in our freezer.

That massive blizzard left our campus deluged with thick snow.  Worse than that, during the night snow invaded a large electrical transformer behind our main apartment block, Lindner Tower, and at 2:30 in the morning caused the transformer to fail.  Power was lost completely to the apartments and also to some other areas on campus.  Many lived with difficult conditions over the next couple of days while we began the complicated work of getting things fixed, and for at least one night everyone was moved out.  But then – with help from good insurance coverage – we had a massive portable generator in place and an order being sorted out for a new generator.  Everyone has now moved back, classes are working as normal, and no serious ongoing difficulties are expected.

There are many learning points, but these few things stand out above others.

1.      How hard people work to deal with emergencies.  Our staff and students worked all day for several days to plow snow, provide care, deal with electrical contractors, restore internet connections, make emergency plans, send out information by every conceivable medium, and much more.  I am not only deeply grateful, I was very moved by their commitment.

2.      How people found community life strengthened.  No-one minimizes the discomfort and difficulty of a lengthy power outage, but more than one resident has talked of the depth of fellowship residents found during the experience.

3.      How people showed kindness.  There are many examples of that, including that many off campus opened their homes to take in residents for a night or two.  One person who could not be reached at the time later contacted us to say, “Please let me help if you have an emergency again!”  I hope we never need to take up that offer, but the strong willingness to help is wonderful.

4.      How resilient and appreciative people are.  We gathered residents after the worst was over to express thanks for their understanding and answer questions.  The large majority of comments were words of thanks.  People said they felt cared for and that Northern Seminary was a good place to be.

I have been telling people that this is a special time in the life of Northern Seminary.  I had never imagined that the special time would include a blizzard.  But the worst of times often happen right in the middle of the best of times.  With the right spirit, a lot of work, the strength of God, those hard times can have good outcomes.

Soon we will have a new transformer installed on our campus.  But our attention is already fully back on our main work of preparing leaders for God’s church.  As I write classes are going ahead upstairs from my office, and the parking lot (cleared of snow even though we have had more since the blizzard) is packed with cars.  This is a great place to be, and I thank God for his goodness and for the family of Northern Seminary.