Annual Meeting, 2018


Portions of my annual report:


Earlier this year, many of us read Dwight Zscheile’s The Agile Church, in which he argued that in order to thrive, in order to do the work of mission we are called by God to do in the world, we need to take bigger risks, be willing to experiment, and yes, fail, and listen carefully to our own stories as well as the stories of our neighbors as we seek to find ways of connecting with them, and helping our selves and our neighbors, connect with God.

That work has borne fruit in a number of ways: in a Welcoming Committee led by Rob Lemanske that has brought new energy and new ideas on how to connect better with newcomers and visitors. The Development Fund Trust is distributing almost $15000 to fund initiatives to build relationships within our congregation, with our neighbors, and with Diocesan ministry partners in the Diocese of Haiti.

This week, the Creating More Just Community task force gathered for a retreat to reflect on the work it has done since its inception in 2014 and to begin planning for its next steps. Their most recent effort, organizing a series of conversations based on a civil discourse curriculum published by the Episcopal Church, drew more than 20 people, including a number of attendees from the broader community, over the last four weeks. It has also hosted a number of community events, including a governors’ candidate forum focused on criminal justice reform, early in 2018.

As the group reflected on its work over the past years, the urgency of the tasks that lie ahead, and imagined what it might do in the future, it highlighted several areas that will receive special attention. First, building on the civil discourse conversations, members hope to share their experience with other congregations, both locally and statewide. Second, we will encourage discussions about racial healing across the congregation, beginning appropriately on the weekend of MLK Day. We also hope to engage more deeply in ministry with our neighbors at the Dane County Jail, both through our connections with Madison Jail Ministry, and with new opportunities that are emerging from conversations with other downtown churches. Finally, we want to continue to develop our efforts to engage elected officials and policy makers with issues of importance to people of faith. To that end, we hope to organize and host a forum for mayor candidates on issues of importance to us: homelessness, racial and economic inequality, relations between police and members of the community.

All of these are exciting developments and all are evidence of our response to God’s call to us. We should be proud of the work we have done and are doing, and grateful for those among us who are taking leadership in all of these areas.

There are significant challenges in our future. As most of you know, the proposal for a new State Historical Museum on the corner of N. Carroll and State St. has been made public and the State Historical Society is actively fundraising for that project under the bipartisan leadership of former Governors Tommy Thompson and Jim Doyle. Hovde Properties, who along with Fred Mohs own much of this block except for Grace Church are proposing redevelopment that would include all of the block except for Grace and the adjacent Hovde Building. We have been in conversations with them since 2014 about our participation in that project and the effects that redevelopment might have on us. We have also spoken with real estate consultants, architects, and developers about the value of our property and what possibilities there are for development of the West Wing. All of these discussions are ongoing and have made little progress since our last public gatherings in June and September.

At the same time, we have been speaking with community leaders, politicians and city and county staff about the future of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter that has been located at Grace since 1984. We are committed to the important role the shelter plays in our community and to the fact that addressing homelessness is at the heart of who we are as a congregation. Still, the possibility that our efforts, combined with a community-wide engagement of the public and private sector might lead to a new shelter in a new location, designed for its purpose and adequate to the scope of the needs in our community, is a dream worth pursuing. Those conversations are bearing fruit and we will share all developments with the congregation as they occur and involve all of you in the process as we move forward.

These are complex, challenging issues that are accompanied by strong feelings and opinions and elicit powerful emotions. Still, we should not fear having these conversations or ignore the possibility that change might be coming to this block of W. Wash. and N. Carroll. I would hope that our engagement in these conversations would be governed by two important and inter-related questions: 1) How can we be the best stewards of the property and location that past generations have bestowed, preserved, and enhanced? 2) What is God calling us to be and to do as the People of God in this very location where we have gathered for more than 160 years? We may not make the right decisions, but if we ask these questions honestly and answer them to the best of our ability and with the best resources and wisdom we can muster, we will be faithful both to those who have come before us, and to those who might come after us, as well as to the God who has called us together and placed us here.

Not one stone will be left: A Sermon for Proper 28, Year B (Annual Meeting) 2018

 We are nearing the end of the liturgical year. In the church, the new year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which this year falls on December 2. But there’s a sense in which our gospel readings in the weeks leading up to that day help us prepare for Advent. Indeed some preachers and liturgists extend the season of Advent back three Sundays and advocate for a seven-week season of Advent.

There are at least two reasons for this move. The first reason for this extension of Advent is, I suspect, largely cultural. Since retailers replace their Halloween merchandise with their Holiday merchandise, and radio stations and satellite services have already started playing holiday music, extending Advent to the beginning of November is a way of offering a counter narrative to the excesses and consumerism of the Holiday season. The second reason for this longer Advent is that our gospel readings for these three Sundays are drawn from Jesus’ teachings concerning his return. They are what we call Apocalyptic literature.

Apocalyptic, which derives from a Greek word meaning revealing, emerged in the second century BCE during a period of crisis among the Jewish people. The central chapters of the book of Daniel are the earliest example of this type of literature. It is symbolic, full of strange beings. It presumes a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, in which ultimately, the good will prevail. While it seems to be describing events that will take place at a future time, in fact, it is describing in highly symbolic terms what is happening in the world right now. So, from time to time, after describing some event or some figure, a beast with seven horns, for example, the author will provide a clue, or a hint, and say, “let the reader understand.” Apocalyptic was also the context in which the idea of the resurrection of the dead first became popular, among the earliest clear references to the idea is in fact in the verses from Daniel in today’s first reading.

As I said, the world of apocalyptic is full of fear and danger, and we live in a context which is full of such imagery and events. Whether it’s mass shootings, terrorism, the continuous wars, or the wildfires that have transformed the landscape of California, taken lives, and changed the lives of so many people, our world seems to be collapsing around us. In such a context, Jesus’ words sound ominous indeed.

Today’s gospel, though written about two millennia ago, comes from a time and a community that were experiencing some of the same fear and uncertainty that we face as a world. As I’ve said before, it’s likely that Mark was written during the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation, and either shortly before, or after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. We date the gospel to this particular historical moment in part because of the very verses we heard today—the disciples marveling at the size and grandeur of the temple, and Jesus’ prediction of its destruction.

The Jewish Rebellion and the destruction of the temple constituted a cataclysmic change for Judaism. It was also of enormous significance for the tiny community of Jesus’ followers, who were caught in the midst of the conflict. As they looked around at what was happening around them, as they probably fled the violence, they were also reflecting back on Jesus himself, the hopes and faith he had instilled in them. As we have seen throughout this year, Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s reign. It’s quite likely that many of those in this tiny community forty years later saw in the Jewish revolt and the Roman response, signs of Jesus’ imminent return.

You can almost hear the conversations of that community in Jesus’ words. He warns against false prophets—those who claim to be Jesus, those who claim to know when Jesus will return. All of the catastrophes, the wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and the like. There were people wondering whether these things were signs of Jesus’ return, signs of the end times. Of course, as we imagine first-century Christians wondering about these things, we know all too well that many contemporary Christians, and many in secular society, too, are fascinated with predictions of the end times.

Jesus’ words concerning his return are elicited by an observation of one of his disciples. Let me give you some background. In Mark’s chronology, this takes place of Tuesday in Holy. On Sunday, Jesus and his disciples made the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we reenact on Palm Sunday. After that, Jesus went to the temple and looked around.. Then he and his disciples left the city and spent the night in Bethlehem. On Monday, they returned to the temple, and overturned the moneychangers’ tables, after which they returned to Bethany. They came back to the temple on Tuesday where Jesus had a number of encounters with groups of Jews, the chief priests and scribes, some Pharisees and Herodians, some Sadducees. After the story of the widow’s mite which we heard last Sunday, they left the temple again, which is when this story takes place.

Once again, it’s as if the disciples are completely oblivious to what Jesus has just said, or has been saying all along. It’s the sort of remark we make as tourists, “Look at how big the stones are!” It’s the sort of remark I often hear when visitors come to Grace: “Wow, what a beautiful church!” Jesus’ retort may have been intended by Mark to reflect the reality that after Rome destroyed the temple, not a single stone was left standing but it’s an important reminder to us as well.

It’s not about the stones, even if it is our responsibility to make sure the stones of this building remain intact. The Jewish temple, Grace Church, are supposed to be places where people encounter God, where they experience the love of Christ and are transformed by that encounter. The beauty of our spaces, both inside and out, are meant to offer such opportunities, to invite people into relationship with God.

One way of thinking about all those encounters Jesus had with Jewish groups in the temple before this, from the moneychangers to the chief priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees, is to see them as challenges to the immediacy and accessibility of people to God. Spaces create barriers; institutions establish and maintain boundaries, communities dictate who’s in and who’s out. Jesus challenged all of those efforts to limit accessibility to God, to set boundaries. The threat he posed was part of what led to his arrest and execution.

2000 years later, those tendencies remain. We focus on the stones, not on God. Sometimes, instead of being a means of access to God, the building becomes our God, and we worship it or focus all of our energies and attention on it rather than on what it is supposed to be. Sometimes, a building can also be seen as an impediment, that it requires resources that might better be expended in other ways, in outreach to the community, for example. Striking the right balance is always a challenge, but I believe we at Grace do that.

I was reminded of the power and possibility of our spaces to connect us with God on Friday evening of this week. Corrie and I were walking on the square just as our bells began to ring at 6:00 pm. Hearing them from the other side of the square wasn’t just a distraction or noise. The sound of the bells reminded me of all that they represent: the faithful people who installed and now maintained them, their sound reminding me of God’s presence in this city, even on a Friday evening.

That is what our spaces should do—our building, our bells, our gardens, all should remind passersby of God’s presence in the world, and invite people to experience and enter into that presence more deeply, whether here at Grace or in other places or other ways in their personal lives.

We don’t know how long Grace Church will remain standing, whether for fifty, or a hundred, or five hundred years. But there will come a time, I suspect, when stone will no longer stand on stone, when there will only be rubble. But until that time comes, in God’s time, it is our responsibility, our mission, to ensure that our buildings and our congregation, are places where people encounter, experience, and share God’s love.

Make a joyful noise! A homily for Choral Evensong and the Rededication of the Bells

I wanted to say a few words as part of our evensong and service of rededication of Grace’s bells because it’s important to mark such occasions; to offer some words to put what we’ve done in larger perspective.

It’s easy for us to forget what we have here on this corner of N. Carroll and W. Washington. Sure, Grace is on the national register of historic places. It’s a landmark both literally and by designation, among the oldest churches in Dane County; among the oldest surviving buildings in Downtown Madison. But that’s only part of the story for behind that landmark, behind the stone and mortar are all of the people over the past more than century and half, who have worshiped here—who have been baptized, married, been buried from here. It’s easy to forget the legacy we have inherited from them—the presidents like Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman who worshiped here; senators, governors, and yes, regular people many of them.

It’s easy to forget all that they’ve given us; to ignore it or simply let them and their gifts pass into oblivion. That’s kind of what we did with the bells. Oh, we knew they were up there. We could even play some of them; but no one really remembered their stories. When I went digging in the files to try to figure out exactly what pitches, what sizes they were, there were at least 3 that were unrecorded (and the records we had, after the first nine were very incomplete, written by hand on note pads or lined paper). I myself had never even been up in the tower before this week.

But now, thanks to the persistence of a number of people, among them Conrad Bauman, Greg Rogers, and most recently Peter Schultz-Burkel, as well as Senior Warden John Wood, and all of those who donated to the effort, whose names are listed on the insert, thanks to all of you, we can enjoy Grace’s bells in all their glory.

No doubt part of the reluctance to assess let alone reinstate the bells was due to a lack of knowledge of how much it might cost, and a sense that it might be irresponsible, somehow even unfaithful to God to spend a significant amount of money on a rather frivolous project like this. But what we are doing by preserving and enhancing the bells is being good stewards of the legacy we’ve received. In many respects, we chose to worship here; to be members of and leaders of this congregation in this place, and part of what that means is to take care of, maintain, preserve, and enhance our facilities. It was an offense to that legacy and to those generations of donors, that too many of the bells sat silent for so long. We are honoring the memories of all of those people, from the Proudfits and the anonymous donors of the first 9 bells, right down to Bob and Betty Kurtenacker, who gave one of the last bells, and who many of us remember.

But it’s not just about that legacy. Ultimately the bells are about the worship and presence of God in our congregation and in our community. As I wrote in some of the materials describing the history of Grace’s bells, bells provide people with a sense of God’s presence in the world and in their lives. This was pointed out to me one day this week when I was stopped by someone on the sidewalk in front of the church he told me how the bells ringing reminded him of growing up in Goa India and hearing the bells call the faithful to prayer and rang out at the moment of consecration during the Eucharist.

Bells help us celebrate the great festivals of the church year, and sacraments like weddings; they toll at funerals, as ours did on Friday for Bob Kurtenacker, the funeral boll tolled 100 times to mark the years of his life, and at 6 seconds between each ringing, it took a total of ten minutes.

We worship in many ways, in the privacy of our homes, in silence and meditation, and in joyful song. Our bells fill the air with music and fill the nooks and crannies of the streets and alleys around capitol square. May their sound bring the city joy and remind us all of God’s beauty and presence in our world!










“The Brazen-Throated Monsters:” Madison’s newspapers’ reporting on Grace’s bells in 1874

Workers from Lee Manufacturing Co. of Muskego, WI are putting the final touches on new strikers and state-of-the-art bell-ringing technology on the 23 bells that reside in Grace’s bell tower. The first nine were installed in 1874. Additions from the 1950s through the 1970s brought us to our current status. Along the way, all of the bells were made stationary and equipped with an electronic ringing system that has deteriorated over the decades so that in recent years, we’ve only been able to play a half-dozen or so of them. It seemed to me to be poor stewardship of the resources past generations gave Grace not to be able to use them in worship and celebration and after consultation with a number of vendors and a successful campaign to garner the congregation’s support, work began a few weeks ago. I’ve enjoyed learning more about the bells in the past few months.

Apparently, there had been something of a competition among Madison’s churches to have the largest bell. Apparently, with the installation of the “Bishop’s Bell,” weighing 2500 Lbs., Grace emerged victorious.

Madison’s newspapers, “The Daily Democrat” and the “Wisconsin State Journal” both reported on the installation of the bells. They arrived from Troy, NY on March 20, 1874. The total weight of the bells and platform was 14000 lbs. The Daily Democrat reported on March 31:

The nine chime bells were safely deposited in the tower of the Episcopal Church yesterday, and will be raised to their places as fast as possible. A large number visited the church to see them, and all will anxiously await the first peal from the “brazen throated” monsters.

After their installation and use throughout the day on Easter Sunday, 1874, the State Journal noted that:

the chimes were generally regarded as a success, and something on the possession of which the church and the city is to be congratulated, though they will sound better when experience will lead to more skilful ringing. Some tunes sounded beautifully, others, rather discordant. We have heard the opinion expressed that one or two of the smaller bells had not as good a tone as was desirable. This morning there was considerable experimenting on the bells by different parties, and a great deal of jangling. –State Journal April 6, 1874

A few days later, The Daily Democrat disclosed that action was being taken to address the intonation issues:

Slightly out of tune. – The third bell, key of G, in Grace Church tower, has been discovered to be slightly out of tune, and the services of a man were engaged through yesterday in chipping off a portion of the rim, by which means it is proposed to obtain the correct sound.–The Daily Democrat, April 10, 1874

However, as is often the case with contractors, Grace, and the whole city were assured that nothing was amiss:

Those bells are in perfect tune, so says a good judge of music; and Mr. Waters, the gentleman who came with them and superintended their erection, has received assurances that all is well; the money is paid down, and all the members of Grace Church are satisfied that the chime is superior to any in the State. –The Daily Democrat, April 16, 1874

The Bishop’s Bell, E-flat or Tenor Bell, 2500 lbs.from The Jones Company of Troy, NY), dedicated to the memory of Bishop Jackson Kemper, first Bishop of Wisconsin, and Bishop William Armitage.

Agile Grace?

This year, members and groups at Grace, from the Vestry on down, have been reading The Agile Church by Dwight Zscheile. I reached for it when I was looking for something that would change the conversation at Grace. We’ve done a lot of good work during my nine-years’ tenure here. We’ve welcomed lots of new members, seen significant growth in our Christian Formation program for children and youth, undertaken the first major renovation and capital campaign in 30 years. We have a task force, “Creating More Just Community” that is focused on issues of racism and inequity and is doing significant advocacy work around criminal justice reform through MOSES and has also formed partnerships with the Madison Jail Ministry.

We could do and must do more. My goals in this process are two-fold: 1) to leverage our location and building to connect with our neighborhood, and especially our neighbors at the State Capitol; and 2) to move beyond our walls and our property and build relationships with our neighbors in places and contexts other than our building. But to do that, we need to think beyond and outside our walls.

The former goal is rather obvious but nebulous and at the same time a potential mine field given the current dynamics in our state and nation concerning the relationship of Christianity and the political sphere. Our Creating More Just Community group is working on it, having reached out to legislators and legislative staff, and through our connections with other groups, we’ve hosted a forum for governors’ candidates, numerous gatherings on criminal justice reform, and are currently hosting the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign.

The second goal presents its own set of challenges. While our building and our lovely courtyard garden are an enormous asset. We have, quite literally, the best location in the city, even if we don’t have adequate parking. We are beautiful, visible, and those who enter our spaces, whether it’s the nave or our gardens, experience beauty and transcendence, and a palpable sense of the divine.

We’ve been here for 175 years. Our nave was completed in 1858. It’s the oldest building on Capitol Square; the oldest church in continuous use in Madison. Its stone walls speak of stability, permanence, immobility. What might agility look like in our context?

Today, after our 10:00 service, we had the first of what will likely be a number of conversations about our future, about adapting and innovating our ministry and mission for the next decades. Almost 50 people participated. There were people who have been members of Grace for decades. Others who participated have been attending for only a few months; one person, a neighbor, has attended a few times over the years, but had the courage to join our conversation and to participate.

We heard stories; stories of how people came to Grace; the familiar, and powerful story of how the Men’s Drop-In Shelter came to Grace in 1984, on a one-year trial basis (It’s been here ever since). We heard the story of the food pantry, and of the people, the visionaries who created it and those other visionaries who advocated for the shelter.

We talked about our neighbors–the many 20 and 30 somethings who live in our neighborhood and are looking for community and connection, and looking to help those in need. We talked about the demographic and cultural changes facing Christianity in the US, and Grace Church.

Vilas Guild Hall, constructed in 1894 as a memorial to Cornelia Vilas, was filled with the sound of animated conversation for almost an hour. We didn’t make it through all of the questions I had laid out to guide our conversations but conscious of the time, I began to bring the meeting to a close.

It was at that minute, as I began talking about next steps, about having a welcoming process in place before the fall, that someone stopped me and said, “Let’s get started right now. If you’re interested in forming a welcoming committee, come over to this table after the meeting’s over and we’ll start making plans.”

We have a great deal of work to do. Welcoming visitors is only one of many tasks ahead. We need to get out in the neighborhood, talk with the people who live, work, and play here, to listen to their needs, their passions, and dreams and find a way of connecting their stories with the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we can do that successfully, we will be well on our way to becoming more faithful followers of Jesus and showing others the transforming power of Jesus’ love in their lives and in the world.

Hospitals and the homeless

One of my great frustrations over the years has been the practice of Madison hospitals to discharge patients to homeless shelters. It’s something we’ve had to deal from time to time, especially when those discharges take place outside of the shelter’s hours of operation. Patients are given cab fare and it becomes the cabby’s responsibility to help them to the doors of the shelter. When, as is so often the case, the shelter isn’t open, Grace staff and volunteers are left with the responsibility of helping the discharged patient until the shelter opens. Sometimes, patients are brought in wheelchairs; occasionally they might have oxygen tanks or catheters. More than once, I have called the hospital in question and expressed my frustration verbally. It’s not just that we aren’t in a position to deal with the situation; it’s that the hospital staff can’t be bothered to find out or know what the shelter hours are before discharging someone to the street; and also don’t seem to care that the patient may not be physically able to negotiate homelessness.

Fortunately, in recent years, I haven’t encountered many such incidents but I attribute that more to chance than to the reduction of the practice. It may also be that with the opening last fall of The Beacon, Madison’s new day resource center, the hospitals have sent discharged patients there rather than to the men’s drop-in shelter at Grace.

Whatever the case, in recent weeks, I have spoken with several men and cab drivers, who arrived at Grace outside of shelter hours. On at least one occasion, I invited a man in to sit in our reception area to wait until the shelter opened. On another occasion, on a warm, sunny day, I simply told him when the shelter would open and where else he might go to wait (the Beacon, the Central Library). I was on my way to an appointment; it was after our offices had closed, and there was nothing more I could do.

A recent piece on Huffington Post explores the phenomenon; hospitals’ usual  denials that they discharge patients to the streets, and the growth of recuperative care facilities for homeless people. Such facilities have proven to be cheaper and more effective than the alternatives:

A survey among 98 homeless people who had been hospitalized in New Haven found that 67 percent stayed in a homeless shelter the first night after being discharged from the hospital, while 11 percent slept on the street.

Both crowded, chaotic shelters and the street are obviously inappropriate places for medical recovery, which can have serious consequences for the patient, including a return to the hospital. Being homeless can increase the odds of re-hospitalization within 30 days almost four-fold.

Madison homeless advocates and agencies have been working for a number of years to develop respite care facilities here. Recently, it was announced that Healing House, a proposed facility for homeless families and created by Madison Area Urban Ministries, received a $500000 grant from CUNA/Mutual to help with the  renovation and operation of its facility. Grace Church provided significant financial support to the early efforts to create such a facility. Healing House will serve families experiencing homelessness with a family member who is receiving medical treatment or recovering after hospitalization. It will fill an important gap in homeless services, but the population served by Grace’s Drop-In Shelter will continue to lack a similar facility. Here’s hoping that such a facility will soon be operational for them as well.

Being a community of resurrection in an age of fear: Reflections on an Active Shooter Training at Grace Episcopal Church, the Second Sunday after Easter, 2018.

On Sunday afternoon, we had an Active Shooter Training led by members of the Madison Police Department. It took several months to coordinate our calendars, so it was sheer coincidence that it occurred on the Sunday when the gospel reading began, “…the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…” (John 20:19) but the contrast between the content of the afternoon’s presentation and the gospel text couldn’t have been more extreme.

To be honest, I was quite uncomfortable with the whole idea. When I heard other clergy discussing such trainings last fall in the aftermath of the Texas mass shooting, I was surprised, shocked, and saddened. I wondered why anyone would do such a thing. Not only do weapons not belong in houses of worship, but as people of peace and love, to discuss what might happen and how to respond to a mass shooting seemed inappropriate, even unfaithful to God and to the witness we are called to be in the world.

But as I continued mulling it over, and as the mass shootings continued to occur, it seemed more and more important that we think the unthinkable. Given our prominent location opposite the State Capitol, the possibility that we might be a random target of such an event is hardly unthinkable.

With a food pantry and men’s homeless shelter on site, in the center of Madison’s downtown, Grace staff and volunteers deal regularly with difficult situations during the week and on Sundays.  It’s easy to imagine someone experiencing substance abuse or mental illness might suddenly pull out a weapon in a confrontation. And as mass shootings have become more commonplace, it seemed to me an unfortunate necessity in contemporary life, especially for churches, the sort of training we need to provide for staff and volunteers.

My uneasy feeling going into the training was deepened when the instructor started out by talking about the importance of visualizing such events in daily life. He suggested that when we enter a restaurant, we should locate emergency exits and escape routes. It struck me then that doing so would require that I reorient my perspective on the world, that I look at my environment as fraught with peril at every turn. I had a visceral, overly negative reaction to that suggestion. To walk through the world with my senses focused on danger seems not only an overreaction to the possibility of catastrophe but would also rewire my brain to avoid risk or new experiences.

As the afternoon progressed, I continued to struggle with the training and with my response to the content that was being presented. There were some useful tips, or, should I say, some helpful suggestions on how to prepare for the possibility of an active shooter. Addressing our likely responses in such situations (duck and cover, run away, or run toward gun shots) and helping us strategize better, more effective responses was really quite helpful. The afternoon also included some first aid tips and self-defense.

I came away from the afternoon feeling like we had made the right decision in offering the training. To have even a few staff members and volunteers who might have learned some things that could help in emergency situations is an important step.. But at the same time, I was both angry and disheartened that such training is increasingly a necessity in our culture. We require volunteers and staff to participate in sexual abuse and sexual harassment training, and if our political culture doesn’t change, it’s likely that active shooter trainings will become commonplace for communities of faith.

But at what cost? Will the message of fear and preparedness inoculate us against the gospel of love and peace? Bible verses ran through my head throughout the afternoon: “Perfect love casts out fear;” “Be wise as serpent and gentle as doves;” “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” What is the appropriate stance for followers of Jesus in our climate of fear and our violent culture?


In a way, to prepare for the unthinkable, as our instructor called it, is just further down the continuum from our usual preparedness. We balance our openness to the community with a need to provide safe space and security for our members and visitors. Our doors may be open on Sundays to all, but we have policies and procedures in place to address difficult situations and challenging behaviors. I’ve had to call the police more than once to deal with a disruptive situation. At the same time, we try to welcome anyone who does walk through our doors, offering them respite, whatever food we might have available, a friendly smile or conversation.

To be prepared, but not fearful, aware but not anxious, welcoming, open, and watchful. Perhaps this is the appropriate perspective to maintain when we don’t know whether the next active shooter event will occur inside, or outside of our doors.