Psychologists will tell us that one of the most basic drivers of human behavior is the need to find safety and stability. And churches are perceived as sanctuaries because they have been infused with the belief that they are safe havens for the soul of the sinner and the saint. And while churches are a place of spiritual refuge to encounter our God is who is our strength and our salvation, that very present help in times of trouble, human behavior has reminded us that tragedy knows no barriers.
In the past few years, news has carried stories of violence coming home to churches. Some has come into the church as a result of domestic disputes that erupted in worship. Others have come as acts of racial violence and terrorism. The idea that the world beyond church walls and the world within church walls is different really does not have any roots in our faith, and it doesn’t in our experience as well.
So it is that we find the US Department of Homeland Security providing seminars to places of worship on the topic of safety and security. Four of these workshops were held at various locations around our state. And many members of UCC congregations signed up. In fact, the sign up was so great that many found themselves placed on waiting lists.
Anxiety has found its home in the sanctuary.
Members of the Disaster Resource and Response Team for our Conference attended and presented at these seminars. The takeaways focused on three areas: disaster, disruption, and danger.
DISASTER: Churches should know their community’s Emergency Management Director. (You can find the contact information for your community here. This person is charged with developing a community plan for response and recovery to any form of disaster or trauma that a community encounters. Your church can (and should) be instrumental in helping your community recover: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Throughout our MACUCC Disaster Resource and Response web pages you will find a variety of resources and articles on disaster preparedness and response.
DISRUPTION: In a time of heightened anxiety and stress paired with a lower level of civility, there are times when the behavior of people in church is disruptive. This does not rise to the level of danger, but may hint at it. As part of Safe Sanctuary policies (for resources and samples see this page) we urge every church to also develop a Disruptive Person Policy with training for its leadership. You will find some excellent insights and resources here.
DANGER: The Homeland Security presenters reminded us that churches can sometimes be soft targets. They are public, open and have minimal security. The workshop offered a couple of resources. In terms of cyber security you should be familiar with this. In terms of active threats, they taught two protocols: 1) A.L.I.C.E = Alert (shout, warn of danger), Lockdown, Inform (give others real time information about what is happening), Counter (interrupt the act of shooting/distract the gunman. If the aggressor can be overcome after being distracted, swarm and detain the shooter), Evacuate.
2) 4 Ls = Locate (determine the location of the threat), Lockdown (find a secureable space), Leave (evacuate to a safe place), or Live (do what you can to preserve life). More information is available at active threat resources.
Local police in many communities can offer to meet with your church leaders to walk through your building and give you tips and observations for risk management. They can offer some good recommendations and strategies to ensure that the church is as safe and secure as it can be.
“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” John F. Kennedy
Rev. Don Remick
Associate Conference Minister
Disaster Resource and Response Team
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