On the third day following the violent and tragic death that was meant to end his life, Jesus entered into a locked room filled with frightened disciples who believed that if people killed Jesus in such a violent way, they could do the same to them. In the midst of the fear of the outside world, Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22, CEB).
In the wake of the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina, many churches have begun rethinking how they approach church security. Even as we collectively mourn, we cannot help but ask whether we are safe in own places of worship. We might even be a little afraid for ourselves, and for those whom we care about. The basic stance of most churches is to create a posture of welcome and openness. So when tragic violence—especially that which impinges on the doorstep of the church or, worse yet, crosses the threshold—tempts us to hide away and lock the doors for fear of those who might do us harm, it is the nature of the love of Jesus and the resultant Christian witness to cast out such fear.
Even as I encourage a bold and resilient posture as the church engages the world, I would also suggest that it is wise and prudent to consider and reassess safety protocols at the local church level church while giving thought to the atmosphere of hospitality that a church wants to create. I encourage giving thought to each time the church is occupied taking into account weekend, weekday, and evening gatherings. Documenting and communicating the safety protocol will go a long way toward renewing confidence among church staff and attendees that the church has taken steps to foster a safe environment even as it works to create a welcoming one for visitors and those seeking the aid of the church.
Finally, I turn back to the event that prompted this post. Today, we continue to remember those saints who perished in Charleston, we give thanks for their lives and take heart knowing that death is not an end for those in Christ. For the scriptures declare: “Death has been swallowed up by a victory” (1 Corinthians 15:55, CEB). We live each day with a certain amount of risk. Every decision to love one another – every decision to live in the vulnerability of real community that embraces a spirit of hospitality creates the possibility that we might get hurt. Yet we maintain the faith. Christ’s mission is to the world. Indeed, Christ’s mission is to those who are sick. Continue to live beyond fear. Receive the Holy Spirit, and remember the words of Jesus, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Rev. Justin K. Coleman serves as Church Ministry Officer for The United Methodist Publishing House. A native of Houston and a member of the Texas Annual Conference, Rev. Coleman is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.