The Minister's Memo

"Troubled People in Church"

by Rev. Tom Schade 
May 2, 2012

Troubled People and the Church.

For the last two Sundays, we have had a particularly troubled person in church.  The man acted with extraordinary enthusiasm, shouting and singing very loudly. He also came to a discussion on Monday Night at the Church and was quite argumentative.  In private discussions, he has been also very argumentative.  

Was this dangerous behavior or an outpouring of what some might call the Holy Spirit?  Was this an occasion for us to learn to welcome the stranger, or the one acting strangely?

There are ways to find that out.  

On the second Sunday he was with us, I asked him to lower his voice and calm down as we spoke.  I told him that his volume and general demeanor were making others uncomfortable.  He said that he was there to push me and all of the rest of the congregation out of our comfort zone. That he responded to that small request with defiance and argument told me what I needed to know:  he did not respect the First Unitarian Church of Worcester and its worship.  

We are a very friendly and welcoming church; but if a person comes into our worship showing disrespect and seeking to disrupt our services, they will be met with a brick wall.  In the service, I attempted to sit with him, but he chose to leave instead.  Once outside, the situation escalated; he also disrupted services at Wesley.  The police were eventually called; he was warned that he could not come onto our property again and was taken away.  The police advise us to not engage with this man, but to call 911 if he comes onto church grounds again.  

What is his story?  At this point, it does not matter.  Our church community has the right to worship as we choose and to protect our worship and programs from disruptive and hostile behaviors. Animals have skins; trees have bark and eggs have shells for a reason.  

Is he mentally ill?  It does not matter; bad behavior is not acceptable, no matter the cause. This congregation includes many people who suffer with various forms of mental illness. In fact, if a church is to serve mentally ill people, it needs to be a place where health and safety can be expected.

As it happened, our suspicions were justified.  The man has a criminal record, including a history of violence and appears to have significant and untreated mental health issues.  None of that really matters in the end.  We just will not permit our institution to be disrespected and our time together disrupted.  We can tell when our comfort zone is being challenged for worthwhile reasons and when it is not.

Great credit should be given to the members of the congregation who help handle this person with skill and determination.  They understood that I cannot manage such a situation during worship, and they stepped up to the task.

For the next few weeks, the church will be deploying some additional security at the time of our worship on Sunday.  We hope that we are over-reacting, but we take seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of our institution and the safety of our people.  Your lay leaders and staff are reviewing our policies and practices with an eye to improving our safety.  During the week and during evening programs, the doors to the church need to be locked and the doors monitored.

Please let us know if you have any concerns or questions.

Tom Schade