A reflection of a Christmas under the protective watch of security guards*
This fall I’ve been attending a big, old church in center-city Charlotte. It’s been a great experience. My partner sings in the choir and I have been tagging along. It’s a different tradition from my Southern Baptist upbringing. I appreciate the reserved and tempered tone of the service. The large, historic sanctuary is immediately both humbling and inspiring. The huge pipe organ, large crystal chandeliers, and beautiful stained glass windows lift my thoughts to a purpose larger than myself that is worthy of expressions of that magnitude. Yet, the space reminds me that I am a small part of the plan. Taking my space on a pew among many others, I am re-centered and humbled in my individual insignificance.
On a recent Sunday, I carpooled with my partner who needs to be at the church early to rehearse and warm up prior to the service. I had to opportunity to see that there’s a whole backstage orchestration that takes place to pull the service together. If you arrive to the sanctuary a little early you can catch the end of the choir’s rehearsal or the ministers explaining to the readers where to take their places. The ushers arrive and take their places by the doors with their bulletins as the sanctuary begins to fill with people. Then the police come.
An armed uniformed officer is at the church on Sunday morning to protect us. The officer walks the church grounds and makes sure things are in order. No suspicious objects. They walk throughout the building making sure things are in order. No suspicious people. (What does that even mean?) They walk through the sanctuary before the services. Checking under pews and even under pew cushions. I’m hoping all they ever find is loose change and abandoned pens.
I saw the officer sweep the sanctuary and building on Christmas Eve. I lifted up a silent prayer for all to be calm and bright.
The officer’s mission, of course, it to help us avoid and prevent the types of tragedies that have taken place at other houses of worship across our country – like Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, SC and First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX where 26 people were killed not long after the Sunday morning service began at 11 a.m. The New York Times reported:
The gunman was armed with a Ruger military-style rifle, and within minutes, many of those inside the small church were either dead or wounded. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history. At least 20 more were wounded.
In prayer, as my mind turns to heaven should I keep an eye open for the movement of an assailant in my field of vision? Will I hear them enter the sanctuary over the sound of the organ and the choir lifting up their voices?
I’m glad that this big, relatively deep-pocketed church can afford to hire security to help keep us safe. Do poor churches deserve to be less safe just because they can’t afford to pay for private security? What could we do with the tithes and offerings that pay for the security? Does protecting our prayer keep us from serving the needs of our community? Is this a security tax on prayer by another name?
What massacres await in 2019? Will my police protected thoughts and prayers make a difference? What will?
I’m probably more accustomed to a security presence than many Americans. I lived in Israel for several years in the mid-2000s. Just about each shop, cafe, bar or restaurant – any public area – had an armed security presence. Every city bus had a driver and a security guard. It was the time of homicide attacks and bus bombings. I got used to scanning the environment myself and facing the door – maintaining situational awareness. But in the stillness of a candlelit Christmas Eve service my mind drifted to the threat of mass violence. That night the vigil isn’t just for the Christ child. Armed police watched their flock by night.
*My website has ads and they’re served by Google based on keywords, the topics of the blog post, and the cookies on your web browser. I bet there may be some ads on this post that are in direct conflict with the theme of this post. I hope not – maybe the AI is smarter than that. We’ll see.