The Sunday after Christmas, the latest high-profile shooting in a church ended when the shooter was stopped—by a well-trained, armed parishioner carrying a legally concealed weapon.
It’s a peculiar kind of contrast, isn’t it – the image of God made flesh in the form of a helpless infant, drawing us together to worship. Then, the image of a broken man with a gun wreaking violence in a house of faith, himself killed by another man with a gun in that sacred space, as we remember the story of God’s vulnerability in Jesus, and the violence he escaped by fleeing to Egypt. The cognitive dissonance of violence in a place called a sanctuary is part of the story of the way of Jesus – and a kind of icon for us. That icon, the child in the creche, the child fleeing with his parents, asks us who we want to be in the face of violence as followers of the way of Jesus.
In the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic violence and hate crimes, faith communities of all kinds – Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and more – across the United States are thinking and talking about safety in new ways. Episcopalians have long staked the claim that safety is not merely about preventing physical violence in faith communities. Safety, in our tradition, is fundamentally about how we treat the vulnerable, how we offer hospitality and relationship across lines of difference, how we let the blessings we’ve been entrusted with best join in God’s mission in our neighborhoods. Those questions – immediate, practical, relational—face us every single day. Those questions reveal the way of love in our lives to our neighbors, sharing the Good News of the way of Jesus, or not.
Rather than letting fear drive our ways of gathering, we can choose to bring our faith, our critical thinking and our values of hospitality to our life together, with best practices and tools that can shape our shared life in the way of Jesus.
On Monday, the School for Formation will launch a new online course: Safe Church: Security and Emergency Management. Founded on the Baptismal Covenant’s promise of respect for the dignity of every human being, and built with tools from the updated Safe Church policies in The Episcopal Church and ECMN, this course will help you think both broadly and specifically about what safety means in your faith community context. You’ll draft an emergency action plan and conduct a risk assessment – tools that you can take back to your faith community for implementation immediately. You’ll learn the skills to discern the difference between bias-based judgment and truly suspicious behavior, and best practices for responding to suspicious behavior. And, finally, you’ll learn about the ways previous trauma functions in your faith community, and how you can use trauma-informed care to respond.
This course is for anyone who has leadership responsibility in a faith community: clergy, staff, volunteers, vestry or bishop’s committee members, ushers, property committee members. Anyone who has a key to the building will find this a helpful platform for thinking about how we steward the safety of our people and our space while we love our neighbors. Groups from a faith community are welcome to learn together.
This course is an extension of the deep work our leaders have been doing to update and deepen Safe Church practices in ECMN, with the guidance of Sarah Barnett, Missioner for Children, Youth, and Camps.
As we welcome the light of Epiphany, remember this: the way of Jesus is fundamentally about choosing love over fear. There are many, many ways to do that. We’re grateful for the ways you reflect God’s light in the darkness.