On May 5th, our Sunday Forum “Maintaining a Culture of Welcome in Times of Uncertainty,” will be led by Harry Wood and members of the Safety Task Force. The Safety Task Force was formed with the objective of identifying and assessing safety and security risks, and making recommendations to address these. Having completed the first phase of their work, the Task Force is prepared to share its report.
The measures under consideration are integral to St. Columba’s ongoing commitment to provide a safe place, for all ages at all times of day, for gatherings of all sorts. Many safety measures have been in place for years; e.g., routine fire drills in the Nursery School, or the “Safeguarding God's Children” prerequisite for all adults who minister with children. The Safety Task Force is recommending some needed updates, both physical – e.g., improved emergency lighting, and procedural – e.g., training more people to use an AED (defibrillator).
Since this past Christmas, a uniformed, armed member of the DC Metropolitan Police has been onsite on Sunday mornings. Initially, the officer (and sometimes his vehicle) was positioned right near the front steps to the church. Since February, in an effort to better balance welcome with safety, the officer has not been in a single location, but has continually walked the perimeter of the property. Short of locking all doors and having a security check-point at each entrance, the visible presence of a security officer is the single-most effective deterrent in the unlikely event of a would-be shooter.
I am well aware the presence of this officer evokes a wide range of responses – both negative and positive. Many of you have communicated your feelings, thoughts and beliefs – either to me or to a member of the vestry. Thank you; I am truly glad to hear from you.
This is a really thorny issue. Caring, smart, faithful people disagree. Some of us – and some potential visitors – will feel reassured by the presence of a police officer; others will feel repelled. Some feel that greater security leads to complicity in a system that feeds on fear and pits force against force, when a Christian community should exemplify Jesus’ ever counter-cultural love. Some feel that taking what measures we can to ensure safety for all who enter our doors is paramount. I trust all of us find it profoundly lamentable that any house of worship must contemplate how to keep its congregants safe in worship.
The Sunday Forum is designed, primarily, for the Safety Task Force to share its recommendations and to answer questions. This is also an opportunity for me and members of the Safety Task Force and vestry to hear any concerns or hopes you may have. At our next meeting, I will make a decision in consultation with the vestry about the Task Force’s recommendations, subject to subsequent approval of the budget. The decision is not likely to satisfy everybody, but it is important for us to work through tough issues together.
Thank you for participating with open hearts and open minds.
Let us pray for peace in our land.