I wish I could tell you that the decision to maintain the presence of a Metropolitan Police (MPDC) officer could be reached simply by looking through the lens of the Gospel and the love of God, but it is not that straightforward. I believe that we are called at all times to choose love in place of fear, hatred, or violence and, to the best of our ability, to embody the radically generous embrace of God. I also believe we are called to build up and nurture the church as the body of Christ, and that the vitality of any congregation depends upon it first and foremost being a place that is safe – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Even if our desires are shared, the means to achieving them are not so clear. Some will say that an armed officer does, in fact, make us safer; others would contend that anyone bearing arms increases the likelihood of someone being harmed.
In addition to the report of our safety task force, vestry members and I have heard from many, many parishioners – raising good questions and sharing opinions, fears, and hopes. Thank you. These conversations have informed my thinking and led to what I believe is the best solution.
In consultation with the vestry, and thanks to Operations Manager Tony Kittrell exploring many options, I have decided that we will keep the presence of an off-duty or retired uniformed MPDC officer but that the officer will be unarmed. As with the current arrangement, this officer will be mobile; not standing guard but walking the property and close at hand in the event of an emergency. Several of the same officers who have been with us since December will continue to serve.
This give us the benefit of a visible presence as deterrent to a would-be assailant,
expertise in de-escalating conflict
, and a highly-trained emergency responder close at hand in the event of a medical problem, falling oak tree, or other unforeseen crisis
. At the same time, we maintain a gun-free environment. In speaking with over a dozen colleagues who lead the largest Episcopal churches across the country, each of whose churches have either armed or unarmed uniformed security officers, they reported that while hiring an officer was prompted for security reasons, they have experienced numerous benefits in times of medical and other crises.
I will review the decision periodically in consultation with the vestry and staff. In the interim we will be acting on many of the Safety Task Force’s other recommendations. We will train key people for Sunday morning and weekday safety measures so that clergy, staff, ushers, et al, are better prepared for emergency situations of any sort. We will tighten up the timing and reduce the number of unlocked, wide open doors. We will consider the relative merit of other options; e.g., placing security cameras in visible locations. It may also be that new patterns will emerge in the broader American landscape, with changes in laws, violence or policing.
Neither the vestry nor the staff are all of one mind on this matter. Yet we all recognize the importance of making a decision and living with it.
I know that some of you will find this decision problematic or disappointing, others will be grateful. I am grateful for the conversations we have had thus far. This is one of those times when we are reminded that practicing our beliefs and living into our baptismal vows is complicated. I extend my deep thanks to Harry Wood and members of the Safety Task Force for their thorough and professional work; I anticipate St. Columba’s will be a safer place for all as a result of their efforts. I am also thankful to the numerous individuals who took time to share their hopes and ideas about this issue.
I pray that in this matter, as in all matters, we shall be guided by the light and love of God. Thank you for your understanding and your prayers.