Changing times: Locking the door to church

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I just completed an announcement for my parish bulletin that I never wanted to write. It explains that I’m no longer leaving the church doors unlocked when present for my office hours.

Instead, people must make appointments or otherwise let me know when they’re coming to clean or light a candle. This feels so wrong, so contrary to what the church should be about. How did we get here?

The trajectory began a couple years back when a former parishioner with a history of mental illness descended into meth use and began sending me bizarre and threatening texts.

Once, he somehow sneaked past as I sat in my office and left a letter on the altar table claiming God had anointed him to denounce me. He asserted the ability to heal HIV with his touch, and concluded with verbiage about bringing me to a moment of reckoning.

Further threats followed during Holy Week, and I’m grateful for some men in the parish who knew about the situation and took it upon themselves to patrol the parking lot during our Paschal (Easter) procession, in case there were an attempt to disrupt it or attack me.

Ever since, when I sit in my office working alone, I find my ears perking up as cars arrive, as footsteps climb the stairs, as the door swings open. It’s usually a friendly face or a delivery person. But until I see with my eyes, it could just as easily be a maniac with an arsenal and a lust for notoriety.

I tell myself I’m overreacting from ungodly fear. But last week an NPR interview forced my hand. The pastor of a Kentucky church was talking about the October tragedy in his town, where a crazed white supremacist randomly murdered two African-Americans at a grocery store.

First, the assailant tried entering this pastor’s church, when no one but himself and some staff were present. Fortunately, the doors were locked. Otherwise, they might’ve all been killed. The pastor was haunted by how close he’d come to having his people’s blood spilled in their sanctuary.

I’d love to keep our doors open. To have people streaming through to pray, light a candle, or otherwise experience some small encounter with the holiness of this place, in the midst of the week. But now, you’ll need an appointment.

Because in our age of mentally-ill gunmen — especially ones having their paranoia stoked by diabolical ideologies of hatred — I’d hate to see the onion dome and three-barred-cross on our sign, or the foreign-sounding “Orthodox” in our name, lead to this sacred place being violated.

Perhaps I’m being fainthearted, or fleeing martyrdom. But the Fathers warn against seeking martyrdom out of bravado. And on the very first Pascha, even the disciples kept the doors shut for fear.

Early Christians met in secret. And I’m certainly no wiser, braver or more insightful then they. Still, I hated making that announcement.

Used with permission.
David Robles 2/17/2020 4:20 pm
Dear Fr Thomas Father bless. Our parish is responding to the issue of church grounds security on several fronts, 1. Many of us oldest members of the parish have keys. The new members can ask any of us to open the church for them. The person with a key also has a code to disable the alarm system 2 There is a boxed key outside the entrance. Anyone with need to enter can call the office and get the code to open the box. They also will get a code to disable the alarm system. 3. The property is fenced and has a gate that requires a code to be opened. 4. The office and school building is separate from the temple. We will be building a new office building and trapeza to allow the school building more room. These buildings have or will have alarm systems and keyed doors. People must make an appointment or call ahead to meet the priest or talk to the church secretary in person. 5. We have a group of men who take turns serving as security guards during services.
Editor12/11/2018 10:50 am
Igumen Alexander: We posted this article because there is a need to keep people in our prayers who are under threat, and help them however we can. There have been a number of priests attacked and killed in Russia, and unfortunately few heeded their calls for help before it happened. Our priests sacrifice their own comfort to do God's work, and they can become targets for sick and demonically possessed people. It's our hope that our readers would keep Fr. Barnabas and all Orthodox priests especially in their prayers.
Igumen Alexander12/4/2018 11:12 pm
Let me start by saying that really enjoy this website very much and often refer to it. this article however I don't understand why it was posted here at all. Regardless if Fr. Barnabas decision is right or wrong or in between, to write about about an internal parish affair, maybe an affair between him and his bishop, and then syndicating it here, is beyond me. I just don't understand it. It has no spiritual benefit. It stirs angst has no positive outlook whatsoever. Maybe more prayers and a bit more faith in the divine protection would be the better approach after all. But I am really not in the position to comment on Fr. Barnabas actions, because it is a local parish affair and context.
G. Samaritan12/4/2018 11:03 pm
Then let me be the one to say it: what has our world come to. Churches that have to be locked during the day because a priest has to fear for his life, because of free roaming mentally ill drug addicts. 2018 is a horrible time to live in.

God bless you
Anthony12/3/2018 10:41 pm
Seeing the land of the exceptional continue its downward spiral, the naughty and mischievous side of me can't help but think - ''well, they destroyed Serbia, they destroyed Iraq, they destroyed Libya, they destroyed Syria, they destroyed the Ukraine, they destroyed Vietnam, etcetera etcetera''. And now the crazies are destroying themselves. Fair dinkums. As we say in Greek: Ο ΤΡΟΧΟΣ ΓΥΡΙΖΕI!
Joseph Bell12/3/2018 10:40 pm
This is not something new to Orthodoxy. St. Tikhon's monastery's original church was larger and grander than it's current one. Alas, it was destroyed by someone offended by their presence there. Prior to the middle ages and through the 20th century many churches resembled a castle like fortification and were made out of stone. We can handle this situation easily with things like doorbells and cell phones and keys that could quickly remedy any inconvenience.
John12/3/2018 6:46 pm
Maybe Fr. Barnabas would feel safer if our kindly and benevolent government passed legislation to get the guns out of the hands of the evil white man altogether. After all, according to the liberal media, Whitey does seem to be the number one national security threat. Nevermind the roving gangs of black men armed to the teeth that commit the vast majority of crimes and murders in this country. But the media tells us to fear the lone white gunman, as always, and Fr. Barnabas sadly is playing into that fear in his bizarre article that you have for some reason found worthy to repost on your website... forgive the criticism but this is all we hear in the US, I don't want to read it here too.
Anthony12/3/2018 4:26 pm
Perhaps it's time to return to locking the church doors at the Divine Liturgy as well.
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