I write this column in Providence, Rhode Island as autumn deepens here in New England. Weather was a strong topic of conversation over too many helpings of fried clams. People agreed the weather was strange but no agreement on what it really meant.
The same was true if the conversations wandered onto the thin ice of politics and turmoil in the world.
We all know that last Sunday was another tragic day in America. 26 church-goers were killed and many others wounded when a mentally ill young man strolled through the church shooting people multiple times.
I had the opportunity to sit down with an old high school classmate on Monday morning who I’d not seen in person since the end of high school years in 1968. We talked about how conditions in America had changed since then. She wondered why churches were no longer sanctuaries from life’s troubles and tragedies.
It was a tough question and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Religious communities by their nature are supposed to be places of peace, prayer and meditation, and a respite from the world beyond the walls. The modern sanctuary movement is an outgrowth of that ideal. People who fear deportation in the current immigration crisis can and will find sanctuary in church buildings. One of our Colorado UU congregations recently was a sanctuary for those who sought safety from injustice.
My old classmate and I talked about what ‘sanctuary’ meant. She is a deeply devotional Christian in the Protestant tradition and she believes very strongly in the words of the Bible. I asked her if she believed that the home where she and her husband live would be considered a sanctuary. She replied ‘yes’. Would a determined person be able to break that sanctuary by forceful means? “Well, yes,” was the answer.
My last question was this: do you as a family spend time worrying about who *might* enter your home or break in to steal stuff? She thought about it and said no. That said, she noted that they keep doors locked and windows closed when they are away even for a short time. They use common sense.
There have been many conversations on Facebook and in person this week about church security and how to make our buildings safer. Westside already has a good disruptive behavior policy on how to handle people who are acting out or so troubled that they disrupt a service or meeting.
I have asked Shannon and other staff as well as Patti McCall whether it might be a good idea to have someone from law enforcement meet with a few of us to address ways to make church safe without going overboard. I hope at least some conversation and techniques can be adopted here at Westside to make everyone at church safer ‘just in case…’
In the meantime, the church is and must remain a sanctuary of trust, shared love and mutual support. It is and must continue to be a place where the searching mind and the tender heart can be in a place of restful repose.
Hopefully, that will continue to be our practice. That, to me, is just common sense.