Thursday! You know what that means, Matriarch day!
I am a newly appointed Pastor of a small-town UMC. My administrative assistant and I have been discussing this week ways to ensure our safety when we are in the church alone. We are concerned about a number of things:
1. She shared with me that sometimes people will come into the office looking for help (money food etc.) and sometimes men come in when she's by herself which makes her uncomfortable. The offices are at the back of the church, on the ground floor. The only way out of the church from our office is through the sanctuary, or down two flights of stairs to the basement. Most of the time we will be the only ones in the building. How can we both reach out and ensure our own safety?
2. Our other concern is use of the Sanctuary. We had thought about maybe locking the doors but having a call button so that we could let people in. But that seems to me to say, "we don't' want you here!" Some people feel unwilling to use the call button----they may have just enough courage to open the door! Plus, if we lock the doors, anyone who feels like they want to come pray in the sanctuary will not be allowed unless they talk to one of us to open the door. (This happened on Friday. She came out and found someone just sitting in the sanctuary.)
Suggestions? Ideas? Please Help us!
My words of wisdom go back to the advice I was given as a sweet young southern belle (insert laughter here) moving to New York City: “Pay attention to your icky feelings.” Don’t ignore them. Weigh them. Consider them. Sometimes you need to take risks, other times you may want to step back. I’ve always been comfortable in the building, but I have been reluctant to drive someone without another grown-up in the car. Although sometimes I’ve even done that.
On to advice.
I think you all need to raise this issue with the PPR committee and the trustees. I would even check with your insurance company to see if they have some recommendations. It is an issue. Plus you want to be sure you get everyone on board so they understand what and why you are doing what you are doing. We don't need to live or work in fear, but we do need to be mindfully careful.
Our doors are locked, yet with a call button. But we do unlock before a group comes who might be using it. We now have a day set aside for prayer and we leave the front door unlocked on that day.
You might get the members in the habit of using the call button. Or you could have a designated male there at all times. But a designated male does not mean safety. Men have been robbed, mugged, and killed too.
It is sad that even in a small town you have to lock doors and think about your safety, but it is the case. Good question.
How do you be the church of open doors, yet do it safely?
Dear Safety Pastor:
This conversation has often occurred in our building:
Person who's come in and is wandering the halls: I'm looking for the pastor.
Me (the Pastor) running into him in the halls: The pastor isn't available right now. Someone can help you (tomorrow, this afternoon, etc.)
Many people see me and assume I'm the church secretary. And that's okay if he believes that the church secretary can't help him. A disturbed person is going to be disturbing with the secretary too, so sometimes it doesn't matter who deals with such folks who wander through our doors.
Actually, I've always thought that getting killed in the church building would not be the worst thing that could ever happen, in eternal terms.
Having said this, we have a security system in our building after an assortment of transients started living in the church basement, scaring away the evening circle members. The security system now serves as a deterrent in that we clearly have one and someone might (erroneously) believe that we are super safe and have emergency alarms that ring into the police station in case of trouble. The truth is that everybody in town either 1) has a key to our building or 2) knows the security codes to turn the alarms off. This is what happens when you choose for your building to be a tool for community ministry which is what we should be doing. We have many 12 Step Groups, Mission Projects, etc. and so we can't leave the building locked. (We do lock the building when only one or two people are in the building and/or expected.)
Our sexton has a sixth sense in terms of noticing when possibly dangerous individuals are in the building, and then he vacuums outside my study until the person is gone. Perhaps expanding a staff member's job description to include this "watchful eye" task would be helpful.
And on this note, I open it to you. What do you think? Is Safe Pastor an oxymoron? What’s the difference in being a fool for Christ and just plain stupid?
Peace to you-