“…love never fails…”
The phone line to my study was busier than usual last week. Congregants were calling me about security in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. After the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Southerland Texas, many of us were feeling insecure about coming to worship. Folks wanted to make sure we had a plan of protection from violent intruders.
After spending a few days in thought, and speaking with the Trustee Chairman, for the time being we decided on the following:
To provide a safe worship experience, the exterior doors at both services will be locked after the services begin. To meet fire safety standards all doors can still be opened from inside the buildings.
At the 8:50 AM service, the main door under the breezeway into the Christian Enrichment Center will remain unlocked and at the 11:00 AM service the center main doors into the sanctuary facing Randolph Street will remain unlocked. The Superintendent of Buildings. and Grounds will provide a watch and welcome during worship at these points.
I noticed that most of the local news outlets were highlighting security measures of local congregations. It was a week of interviews with law enforcement and pastors on what houses of worship were doing to protect themselves. I called a former police chief of Thomasville, who has become a pastor to two United Methodist congregations in rural Rowan County. We talked about the anxiety coming from our respective memberships and how to go about giving them a sense of ease, but all the while knowing that discipleship was never meant to be a safe way to walk through life. Love is a risky business, and loving in the way Jesus did nailed him to a cross.
I came across an article in a Houston newspaper reporting on the memorial service this past Sunday, held under a tent on a baseball field beside the Southerland church. Their pastor, Frank Pomeroy said to the crowd of 700, “a battle is raging around us…between the principalities of good and evil… And if anybody knows me, what is my favorite verse? ‘Love never fails.’”
Just one week after this horrific act that took his fourteen-year-old daughter and much of his congregation, Pastor Pomeroy still claims that love never fails. Even while he bears the burden of his grief, he believes good will overcome evil. There is no other direction for him to turn, because Christ has defeated sin and death.
Yet, until that day comes when earth is like heaven, Pastor Pomeroy lives at risk, and so do we who share his faith. Yes, it is prudent to take precautions, but locked doors and weapons will not change the world, and changing the world is precisely what the church has been put here for. A faithful congregation will continue to welcome the stranger, the broken-hearted and sin-sick. We will remain open to a troubled world, because love never fails.
As the former chief and I spoke, we remarked at how the physical outlay of most churches is to welcome people. Our buildings have more doors than a shopping mall. Our sanctuary entryways open wide to main street. For a generation the tagline of the United Methodist Church has been “open hearts, open minds and open doors.” But, if our physical space does not resemble who we say we are, then what reason will people have to believe us? We bear a poor witness.
I have knocked on the door of churches that were locked like a fortress, with gates, cameras and buzzers. Finally, someone comes to the door and peers through the window to see if I am legitimate. I smile and identify myself, and they let me in. Their statement is clear. We see you as potential threat, and sometimes love fails. I do not want to become that church.
Pastor Pomeroy continues,
“We can’t allow this act that happened last weekend to keep us from church. We can’t use it as an excuse for why we can’t or should not go to church, we can’t allow that act to let us turn heinous and ugly, as the darkness would have us to be.”
I would add, neither can we allow what happened in Southerland Texas to keep us from welcoming a broken world, otherwise we fail to be the church. So, while we look for ways to regain our lost sense of security, remember that being Christ for the world has always been a risky business.
As it is written…
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,9 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.