This week, Douglas and I, along with the other Sunday School teacher, were told by our pastor to lock the church doors before we start Sunday School. Anyone who wants to come in will need to ring the bell or use their key, if they are a member of the leadership team at church. There are fears of shooters coming into the church, including racists who are looking for easy marks to express their hatred or disgruntled and violent spouses.
As part of the leadership team, the ministers are responsible for the health and welfare of anyone entering the church. It is one of our chores to ensure the safety of everyone who attends our churches. We can be held liable for not having good security, which necessitated us buying church insurance. We have added an alarm system, so that the church is constantly monitored by an outside source (see the photo above).
This is a terrible new reality in American churches. I remember when churches where seen as affable places, and they kept their doors unlocked so that people could enter the church and pray whenever the need arose. People would come and just sit in the presence of God and feel more hopeful when they left. Sometimes, they left behind a small offering, feeling that they should, although most churches did not expect any money from the visitors.
But, with the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston , South Carolina in 2015 and a more recent church shooting near Nashville, Tennessee, both racially motivated, churches are having to address the possibility of a shooter. The fear of someone entering the church and pulling a gun is very real.
Recently in Huntsville, Alabama, some brave church members talked a guy brandishing a gun into going outside with them, while others locked the doors and called the police. The gunman was eventually arrested.
I believe in the promises of God, including that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), and that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ s name, He is in the midst of us (Matthew 18:20-22). But, I also know that people have died in church shootings. I can’t explain how both can be true, and I won’t try to do so.
Yet, questions arise that I never thought would be part of Christian dialogue. Do we lock church doors during services or do we arm some members to protect others? What methods would allow for the openness expected of churches but still keep people feeling safe enough to attend worship services?
It is a reality that you are not safe anywhere today. Even our children have to participate in active shooter drills, learning what to do in the case of someone with a gun enters their school, which should be another safe space.
We are adamant in our commitment of keeping people safe, but also of providing a place for people to come and learn of the goodness and love of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ in a safe environment. How to do both is the problem. Until an answer is found, we will keep locking the church doors during meetings, Bible studies, and worship services. But, it hurts my heart to have to do so.