Just over a month ago on October 3, I posted a few words of reflection in the wake of what was then our country’s most recent mass shooting, when a gunman opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas. I offered three points to help focus our attention:
- Don’t rush past grief.
- Stay engaged.
- This has to do with us.
Here on November 7 I find myself once again searching for words in the wake of what is now our most recent mass shooting, this time unfolding at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX.
I stand by that previous post, even as I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that we're reliving this same trauma yet again, and just 4 weeks later.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
With this most recent atrocity happening at a church—and a First Baptist Church at that—it feels somehow closer. Some of you have reached out about steps we’ve taken here at the church to be as prepared as we can for unspeakable scenarios such as what happened in Sutherland Springs, as well as other security risks.
Security is something we take very seriously as a staff, and cuts across many conversations around the use of our building. Our context as a downtown church brings a specific set of challenges that we’ve navigated through the years. That, combined with our different community ministries, means that we have a number of people coming in and out of the church on a daily basis. This is, of course, a tremendous blessing and something we value, so we’re constantly evaluating the tension between hospitality and security. It also means that certain precautions are taken.
We recently participated in a beta program through Cox Communications to have security cameras installed around the exterior of the building, which provides an added resource to monitor the building when it’s not in use.
We have protocols of keeping all exterior doors other than the main office locked through the week, and only opening necessary doors when the building is in use. On Sunday mornings, most doors are open during the Sunday School hour, but once worship begins we lock all exterior doors apart from the main doors to the sanctuary.
I spoke yesterday with Sheriff David Davis to hear his perspective on these matters. He supports our protocols on locking doors, and said that beyond those simple precautions the best thing we can do is be vigilant. He does not advocate the hiring of armed police, a position I wholeheartedly share, and noted with a degree of sadness that in the current state of things, it’s simply the case that we take on a degree of relative vulnerability when we worship. Yet it’s important to remember that this vulnerability is indeed relative.
David also noted that very few of these shootings, or other acts of violence, are completely random. There is almost always some relationship that has fallen out and unfortunately spilled over into a public place.
There have been instances in the past when we’ve been alerted to certain potentially volatile situations within our wider congregation, and have taken necessary precautions. Nothing, in my memory, has ever materialized.
Additionally, our staff—and many of you—are familiar with most, if not all, of the different members of our downtown community that frequent our church. It is exceedingly rare that a potentially threatening situation arises with one of them, to the point that I can’t easily remember one. We maintain these relationships because our calling to be good neighbors demands it, and our congregation is blessed by their presence in ways we don't appreciate enough. But maintaining these relationships also leaves us better prepared to anticipate potential situations, and I believe, reduce our risk that they happen in the first place. So know that this too is something of which we are keenly aware. And as we’ve said in the past, if you ever find yourself in an encounter that leaves you feeling in any way threatened or unsafe, please come and find a minister or anyone on staff.
I hope this addresses any questions you may have about security here at the church, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for further discussion.
Hold all those who are grieving this most recent atrocity in your prayers. But hold as well our society as a whole, that we might summon the courage to face our demons and envision a world where these atrocities are not at the risk of becoming normal.