Lock the Doors

"Lock" by Lok Leung is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND. http://www.flickr.com/photos/xserve/368758286/

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.

Featured image:Lock” by Lok Leung is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

6 thoughts on “Lock the Doors”

  1. At Worthington, the main sanctuary doors are always locked other than worship or other event times. The doors to other parts of the facility are unlocked when functions are scheduled. But during general business hours, the main doors are locked, with camera surveillance/intercom access, and remote unlocking from the business office. I’ve often thought that some kind of compromise could be reached through a combination of different architecture and mindset, where maybe a small prayer/meditation chapel or similar space could remain unlocked and open most of the time. It could be something nice but without anything of real value within it that could walk away, and it could have video/audio security, and be locked from the remainder of the facility, but still clearly be set aside as a place of spiritual nurture.

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    1. I’ve always admired the old design where the sanctuary was the main entrance to the church building, and the other parts were accessed through there. That way, the sanctuary could be open to the outside while the rest of the building is locked when necessary, allowing people to come in, rest, and pray, while keeping the rest of the building safe. But that, I think, would also require someone sitting in the sanctuary when it is open just to keep an eye on things.

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    2. It’s a shame to say, but vandalism has to be a primary concern today. My church keeps the doors to the sanctuary locked by has a small brick chapel off to the side of the narthex that stays open. I think a lot depends on the size of the congregation and how many people are milling around during the week. Larger congregations who have regular weekly activities have a definite upper-hand. Maybe regular activities and involvement is the answer—easier said than done but still…

      Congrats on your Region assignment by the way!

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  2. I went to a church in Manchester, England that was open from 6:00 am until about 11:00 pm every day. The doors were usually open wide onto the street. The church was in the downtown area, in the middle of the university district. There were about the same number of students in that area as Ohio State so it was a very populated, busy area. The doors were unlocked only to the sanctuary and everything of value in the sanctuary was locked up somewhere else. Having a church nearby that was open was very nice because sometimes I needed to get away and relax and I often went to that church.

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