Mass shootings over the years may be prompting security fears serious enough to make some uncomfortable attending a church service.
When a gunman opened fire in a downtown Charleston church on June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the church’s pastor, it wasn’t a Sunday morning service: it was a small Wednesday night Bible study.
Still, a church isn’t the kind of place where one should expect such horrific violence would ever happen.
The growing number of mass shootings over the past few years have some people thinking about safety in public spaces.
It isn’t an irrational fear. Law enforcement agencies across the country have offered seminars for local clergy to help instruct them on how to make their church buildings safer.
When I used to work for a church, I spent my time during the service up in a booth where sound, lighting and projection was managed. My vantage point gave me something of a birds-eye view of the entire room, so I felt relatively safe since I’d at least have time to react.
But I was talking with a friend the other day about visiting a church. My friend sat in in the back row. This was a non-denominational church where things were perhaps a bit more relaxed. At several points during the service, without any explanation, a handful of congregants would get up and move to the back of the room. In a couple of instances, they walked out the back door and returned a few moments later with coffee.
It was distracting.
It was also, he said, a little nerve-racking. In this day and age, with those security fears in the back of one’s mind, it’s uncomfortable to know that there are people moving around behind you during a service when everyone should be expected to be seated and paying attention.
There are some of us who are far less likely to go to a movie theater because of past mass shootings at theaters. I really don’t have much desire to go see a movie in a theater myself: it’s mostly about the outrageous cost of tickets and refreshments and a little social anxiety about crowds.
Unfortunately, security fears are also part of that picture.
More than 5,000 readers told The New York Times they felt anxiety while riding the subway, going to the movies, dropping their children off at school and attending religious services.
A 68-year-old Nashville woman said she thought about those fears, particularly in a church:
“I think about it every time I climb the stairs to the choir loft at my church because a man came to church on three different Sundays with a gun a couple of years ago. I have a dear friend who herself was shot in church eight years ago. Thankfully, she survived.”
Fortunately, technology may have the solution: many churches now broadcast their services live on Sunday mornings on their websites or on their Facebook pages. Church leaders will insist that this is not better than being there in person and experiencing a true sense of community.
Unfortunately, many churches don’t seem to know how to handle visitors, and I’ve attended several different church services where I wasn’t spoken to by anyone unless a pastor ordered everyone to greet someone near them.
A forced interaction isn’t community.
It’s a shame that some of us might feel the same kind of anxiety about attending a church service. But the live streaming option is certainly better than not attending at all.