In this issue, I bring the reader up to date on improvements we’ve made to campus security and plans we have going forward.
Campus security. It’s a topic I wish I did not have to write about. I wish the world was as gentle as it was when I was growing up. I wish guns were relegated to hunting trips, Saturday mornings at the shooting range, and protecting a home or business from an intruder. I wish people didn’t feel the need to carry a gun concealed on their person. I wish more of the money I pay in taxes went to help people suffering from mental illness or domestic abuse. I wish children would stop bullying one another. I wish all people had sufficient food, shelter, and self-worth so that they could forego using violence as a means to act out their pain.
I wish I could wish—or pray—away the reality of the world we inhabit. I wish I could erase violent words and behaviors from the lexicon of popular culture. But I can’t. I wish I could pretend that a church campus is somehow magically immune from the problems of the world; I mean, isn’t that why we call our worship space “a sanctuary”? Don’t we risk repelling Jesus if we insist on addressing such pedestrian concerns in the very midst of our sacred worship space?
The great nineteenth-century engineer and prolific inventor Alfred Nobel once said, “Good wishes alone will not ensure peace.”  The man whose life fortune funded the Nobel Peace Prize invented dynamite and the paradox of his life and legacy offer a glimmer of hope. They somehow remind me that even though Jesus was a pacifist, he regularly waded into the fray, into the contentious confrontations of first century Israel, and it was there he chose to do his ministry. Remembering this helps me recall that—like it or not—our place is likewise to do ministry within the too-often confrontational and violence-loving context of modern life and not apart from it.
Even so, talking about security in a church raises for some people powerful emotions. When those emotions settle what tends to be left is sadness: deep sadness that the world has come to this. I join you in that sadness but I will not allow myself to be ruled by it. I read an article that recalled how emotionally many people reacted twenty-some years ago when churches began insisting that members who worked with children (and other vulnerable populations) undergo background checks and sexual misconduct training.  For some people it felt like the foundation of trust they’d taken for granted in church life had suddenly eroded and fissured. It felt their personal integrity was being unjustly called into question. And yet, over time most of those who reacted so strongly against being screened and trained have come to understand that such measures make sense in light of the times. So likewise it will one day be, I pray, with the preventative measures we are now taking against the threat of violence.
As a pastor part of my calling is to shepherd people, and one of the things real-life shepherds do is help keep their flock safe. While I can’t begin to control human behavior I can make campus safety a priority and work to assure we put in place procedures that help us respond appropriately in the event of an emergency. Our bishop has explicitly asked that all churches do just this. At our annual diocesan convention last fall, he made an appeal to all present that we develop emergency response protocols and then actually practice them from time to time. Practice! On a Sunday! In church!
So, it is with my conviction that safety is part of our holy work and bearing in mind the mandate of our bishop that I offer you the ways our church has (and will continue to) address on-campus safety.
+ Last October we completed the conversion of six exterior doors to a keyless (card key) entry system. The system came with software that allows staff to review who accessed which door and when. It allows staff to limit a user’s access to a particular door on a particular day and time, or to expand those access privileges as warranted. It vastly improves the accountability of all of us who have keys to St John’s.
+ At that same time we also added more security cameras, bringing the total number on campus to fourteen. Easy to use software permits staff to review the recorded footage in the event of an incident. This feature came in handy recently when an unknown individual entered the church and stole an item belonging to someone engaged in ministry.
+ We added a video doorbell to the rotunda entry doors so that during those times when few staff or volunteers are on hand, our offices can still remain open to the public but access to our offices can be controlled.
+ Remaining exterior doors that are conventionally keyed will be rekeyed in the next month.
+ Shades have been installed on some of the glass front education wing classroom doors so that in the event of an intruder those inside a classroom may shelter in place if necessary and be out of view.
+ We have started to lock the front doors of both chapel and church once worship is underway on Sunday mornings. A sign on the chapel doors refers late arrivers to alternate doors. We’ll install a similar sign on the Pine Street doors this month.
+ Our church undergoes annual inspections to ensure the safety of all. Those inspections include our kitchen, our elevator, and our fire suppression system.
+ Several times during the evening, night, and early morning hours of every day, our security firm patrols our campus looking for anything amiss. They send us incident reports so we can address any issues that seem chronic.
+ On Soup Kitchen Sunday we engage the services of a guard from our security firm to be present on site and assure the safety and peaceful behavior of all.
+ Some folks cycle to church and carry small knapsacks. Our guests who live without shelter often carry larger packs containing all their worldly belongings. We walk a line between welcoming all just as they are and ensuring the safety of all, and know that no backpack/knapsack policy will be perfect for everyone. For now, we ask that people choosing to sit in the balcony leave their packs in the narthex. We ask that people choosing to bring large packs into church sit toward the back of the sanctuary, where the tripping hazard such packs present can be minimized.
+ Starting last fall, a small cadre of volunteers began walking the campus on Sunday mornings before and during worship. The volunteers—called Guardians—carry a radio that is linked to one carried by the chief verger and also one carried by our Director of Faith Formation. The ministry of the Guardians is to look for things and people amiss. Thus far they’ve found doors opened that shouldn’t be and have helped a child or two find their way to their parents. The Guardian ministry would love a few additional volunteers. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact Tom Brewster.
+ A simple emergency evacuation plan has been developed for the church and we’ll be affixing laminated cards to the pew backs that offer a quick and easy map of the exits. We have so many visitors and folks new to the parish that we can no longer take for granted that everyone knows how to exit the church.
+ We’re working on a similar evacuation plan for the education wing and will have quick reference guides posted there as well.
+ Still to do is the installation of interior partitions (to separate classrooms from the main hallway) on the first and second floors of the education wing. Our capital campaign raised about 85% of the funds needed to address all of the items on our Phase One project list. We are awaiting estimate and completion of an unanticipated plumbing upgrade (necessary in order to permit the chapel bathroom remodel) so we can assess whether or not we can cover the installation of the education wing partitions with the funds that have been pledged to date. If not, we’ll raise what it takes to do this installation.
+ On January 20th and February 10th, officers from the Boulder Police Department will offer training to parish leaders on how to respond in the event of an emergency. Emergencies can take many forms—medical, intruder, storm or storm damage, and fire—and knowing how to help (and how not to help) in the event of an emergency is important. The intent is not for our parishioners to supplant the work and expertise of emergency response professionals. Rather, it is to train us in how best to help until those professionals arrive on the scene.
These changes and protocols do not diminish our calling to be a place of love. Sometimes love carries with it the responsibility to set boundaries. Sometimes love means building a framework within which the community can safely gather and worship in peace. Sometimes love means working faithfully within the constraints of what is instead of wishing for what used to be.