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Another Voice: Who’s watching over churches' gatekeepers?

By Lois Vidaver 

When the subject of church safety comes up, people focus on potential harm to innocent parishioners sitting in a Sunday service. The gatekeepers, on the other hand – the administrators and secretaries who are there to open the doors to visitors – hold down the building by themselves for hours every week. What safety measures are in place for them?

Years past, I was that church secretary. My story starts with the day a stranger walked into my office with the outline of a gun clearly bulging under his shirt. Scary moment. I somehow notified the pastor who was in the parsonage next door. He came over and dealt pleasantly with the man who was asking for a food handout from our pantry.

He received it, in a hurry. The pastor then walked him right to the door, making sure it was locked behind him. Turning to me, he said, “So much for a gun-free zone. Let’s call the police.”

At the area-wide church secretaries’ meeting that month, the subject turned to safety in our churches. It soon became evident we all had anxious moments when we were alone in the church building. Those of us with food pantries noted the increased foot traffic between the times the pantries were officially open. Did we turn anyone down who wanted food? Not likely. We also had occasional transients who asked for gas money and sometimes lodging. These people were not known; they were telling stories the secretaries could not verify. We shared methods for screening visitors that we each used in our respective churches.

Sue, at her job, called through the outside locked door when she was alone in the church and didn’t open it unless it was a person she knew. The disadvantage of that method: it was obvious to the visitor that she was the only one in the building.

Maxine had a monitor in her office showing her who was at the door which she could not see from her vantage point. She spoke with the visitor through the intercom, then buzzed them in. If she had doubts, she asked them to call the next day and make an appointment. The disadvantage is that when anyone came through that door, it was often left unlocked.

Ann had a peephole in her door but the visitor was only visible if they stood directly in front of it. That rarely happened. Also, she has never refused to open it, even for strangers. The disadvantage is that Ann’s conscience kept unlocking the door!

None of these methods worked well and we were well aware of it.

Every secretary/administrator in a church needs a safety plan because they are in a vulnerable position. Church leaders should be diligent in making sure they are secure, safe and stress-free.

Lois Vidaver of Tonawanda is a former church secretary.

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