As far as I knew, church doors were supposed to be locked. At my home church, if it wasn’t Sunday morning or the few hours when people were at the church, the doors were locked. The church connected to my grade school was always locked unless we were having class or chapel. My MIC church was locked even when people were in it. I just assumed that churches were supposed to be locked all the time.
It was easy to figure out why they were locked. My home church has been broken into in the recent past. My MIC church was broken into while I was serving there. Churches can have expensive items and often cannot afford to replace them or repair vandalism damage.
When I went on internship, I was surprised to learn that the doors were unlocked in the morning when the first person got there and weren’t locked again until the last person went home at night. Granted, the circumstances were a little different–the church administrator was full-time and it was uncommon for the building to be completely empty, even if only one person was there. Still, I was impressed by the trust shown by that building, knowing that what they were doing wasn’t exactly safe.
My home church has recently been struggling with how to balance welcome and safety, especially concerning the sanctuary. Being on the south side of Chicago, there is a very real safety concern for the building. And now that the church is intentionally trying to be more open to the community and be a regular part of neighborhood life, the concerns that could be ignored in the past are coming to a head. With more people coming into the building, some of whom have never been in a church before, what is an appropriate level of openness?
The main concern is children in the sanctuary and the damage they could cause. The current solution–tying the doors of the sanctuary doors closed with a ribbon and putting a chair in front of the doors.
I’m not sure what I think about this. On the one hand, I understand the circumstance. This is during hall rentals, and children have been found running through the sanctuary and messing with things. Parents aren’t keeping an eye on their kids. It would also be awkwardly rude to post a guard at the sanctuary doors.
On the other hand, walking into the church and seeing the sanctuary doors tied shut strikes a nerve. In a church that is trying to be more welcoming, this is a very visual sign to the contrary. In a bit of irony, there was never a big need to tie the doors shut because no one was using the building–now that they are, we are finding that we’re not yet comfortable with the idea.
This will have to an ongoing conversation for the congregation. I don’t think the current solution is an adequate balance between needs and concerns. I would prefer to err on the side of being open to the community, but I’ve never had to foot the bill to replace a broken sanctuary item.
Churches everywhere have similar struggles. How do we open our doors to our community while acknowledging that there are times that they will need to be locked. How do learn to trust a little more and fear a little less in a society with an unhealthy obsession with security? There are no easy answers to these questions, and faith communities with their own buildings will have to engage in serious discernment with the Holy Spirit to figure out what is best for them and their community.