What Have I to Fear? 

March 25, 2019

A familiar refrain brings assurance and comfort, “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms.” In current times, we too often feel less safe and secure, even in our places of worship and sanctuary. “What have I to dread, what have I to fear?” asks the hymn writer. Our affirmation is NOTHING! Our reality is different.

In our effort to continue the open hospitality and gracious Plymouth Church UCC welcome, we have explored ways to restrict access and monitor movement without creating undue concern. Ushers, Greeters and Companions are NOT trained security personnel; neither are building staff. While many are willing to place themselves in harm’s way, our aim is to create a facility and presence where all feel safe and to respond in clear, well-communicated ways during emergency situations.

In recent months, with attacks on a Texas Christian church, a Pennsylvania Jewish Synagogue, mosque vandalism in Redmond and the recent New Zealand shooting, our awareness and concerns are heightened. Moving forward, here’s how we are responding.

The Congregational Council addressed the question of building security after the church shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. We explored costs of magnetized secure doors, keycode entry systems, practices recommended by Department of Homeland Security for Houses of Worship and more. Updates require significant financial support for our existing building. As subsequent events happened around the country and world, our concern grew. Direction was given by Council to purchase needed security cameras as an initial step, with further action to be determined.

At the end of 2018, we purchased 16 security cameras to install at various, strategic places in the parking garage, at entrances and other building access points. Installation is pending an asbestos site assessment with a local company and our installers, which will happen this week. Because we believe this is necessary, even though it is not in the budget, we are using reserve building funds to complete the project. In the interim, two security cameras monitor our main Sixth Ave. entrances around the clock, and one camera for the church office. You may also notice that direct access through the garage stairwell/elevator entrances is limited earlier in the day. Soon this will be a keycode entry.

You may have also noticed, during 2018 Christmas Eve and Easter services, a uniformed security person monitoring our building’s exterior and entry points. While not armed, these trained persons know how to respond. We believe this is no longer enough, given current social unrest in which people have felt and become empowered to express their hatred and bigotry through violence. To further increase awareness and be proactive, we are communicating with other area faith communities versed in security measures to receive their input and assistance to determine next steps.

This week, I met with a security representative who currently provides security for Redmond’s Muslim Association of Puget Sound mosque. Starting immediately, a security officer will be on-site six days/week for a trial period. Next week, Officer Jim Ritter of Seattle Police Department meets with me to do a site assessment from their perspective in policing and public safety. We will also discuss Plymouth Church hosting a regional Faith Communities Security Workshop to help other religious organizations come together and share what we can do in our locations. 

A security team is being developed to update existing emergency preparedness policies and to create new ones for building access/restriction during Plymouth’s weekday operations, worship services, music events and other significant gatherings. Through information gathering, we will bring the Council and congregation an action plan to make necessary updates and improvements. The Community and Care Board and Congregational Council continue to promote our well-being and safety, while also discerning what is needed to promote the highest levels of safety, hospitality and gracious welcome. The questions and answers will challenge us to re-examine current procedures and take new actions.

We know that “leaning on the everlasting arms” is good for our soul, and leaning on one another with stronger practices and procedures for preparedness, as well as intentional forward leaning actions will make Plymouth Church UCC a place of worship where our fears do not disempower, stifle or silence our determination to provide a place of compassion, grace, justice and safety for us and our community. –Yours in grace and hope, Rev. Steven Davis, Executive Minister

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