I confess I was sort of taken aback during our “Visioning” session this past Sunday when, given the opportunity to explore in some greater depth three questions about our future as a parish, we opted to make one of those questions be about safety and security. I didn’t see thatcoming.
I know, the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings are still fresh on people’s minds, and the painful memories of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, and of course Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. are all recent examples of just how vulnerable places of worship can be.
Still, I was greatly relieved that when we opted to talk about security, we did so in the context of “How can we be moreopen and welcoming to strangers and to the homeless while alsoproviding a place of safety and security for all?” I would hate to think that we would let our fears – understandable though they are – dictate a lessening to our commitment to outreach, welcome and hospitality to all.
It’s true, we did have a theft recently, and that has led to some tightening of security here. As far as I know, the only things taken were a $10 bill from the church office and my green stole from the sacristy. A stole is quite an odd thing to steal, and I especially lament the loss of that particular one because it was handmade, a gift to me from my former parish, St. Andrew’s, Denver.
But stoles can be replaced, so I’m not going to spend too much time dwelling on that one. The incident led us to begin locking the sacristy, and doubling down on locking church offices when they are unoccupied. These are prudent steps. They need not be interpreted as fearful or reactionary. They’re just smart.
Let’s be on our guard, however, that we not wrongly ascribe devious motives to those who show up at St. James looking bedraggled or anxious. These are the very people our Lord mostly hung out with, and commands us to do the same. Let us remember that we are the very place the bedraggled and anxious of the world oughtto come.
On that note, let me share with you a letter I got last week from Ted Roggenkamp, who visited our church on Thanksgiving and took part in our feast. Ted is on the vestry at St. Paul’s, Lakewood, is a member of the board of directors at the 32ndAvenue Jubilee and a regular volunteer at St. Clare’s Ministries, though he didn’t mention any of that while he was here. He was, by his own admission, “traveling incognito” that day.
“I’m writing to thank you for your genuine and kind greeting and conversation during the Thanksgiving feast on 11/22,” Ted writes. “I brought two men to the event and they were made to feel welcome …You were a shining example of ‘friendship to strangers in a foreign land.’ I could tell my new friends, James and Puma, appreciated it as I did…. It makes me proud to be an Episcopalian when I see others serving ‘the least of these’ with such heartfelt kindness as you displayed.”
There. That’s the kind of safety and security we need to be striving for. I was proud of us that day, and continue to be proud today. We could spend tons of time and effort guarding our doors and protecting our stuff, or we can throw open our doors and freely give ourselves away.