A Note from Pastor Rick: What We Learned in Church Recently
This note is a belated response to disruptions in a couple of recent Sunday morning worship services. The first was the fire alarm going off during worship and the second, a couple weeks later was someone mounting the platform while Pastor Rick was preaching. Needless to say, neither event was scheduled. Thankfully, what does need mentioning, is that neither of these disruptions were more than disruptions.
I recently received an email from a congregant asking for information about what we have learned from these two events and what plans might be in place for future, similar situations. I was glad to receive the email because, quite frankly, though we had processed these two incidents quite a bit at the staff and elder level, we had not shared anything formally with all of you who were in the congregation on those two mornings.
So, first the fire alarm. For those who were not here, on February 17th a fire sensor in one of the HVAC units was triggered because of smoke due to friction created by a frayed belt. When our alarm system goes off, the local fire station is also alerted and they responded by sending a truck to the church. Our facility and security crews surveyed the building to make sure there was no actual fire. The congregation remained very calm throughout the process, even engaging with Ben and Julianne Toalston who led in worship while we were outside waiting for the all-clear. Many thanks to them and to all of you for hanging in there through the uncertainty and confusion of that incident.
We learned in processing with the Fire Chief in the aftermath that we were too slow in exiting the building. We also learned that at least one car in our parking lot had blocked the access of the fire engine; that engine was not needed, but if it had been needed the delay would have been costly. We also learned that when there is a fire alarm, it is important that people NOT try and exit the lot in their vehicles. This could potentially block a fire engine rushing to the scene to put out a fire.
Following this experience our staff team did a thorough debrief of the morning and Mike Connors met with the Berlin Fire Marshall, who conducted a careful walk-through of our building. He gave us a positive report. In the future, should the fire alarm sound during a meeting or service, we will need everyone to exit the building immediately. Teachers will be responsible for seeing that their students are evacuated immediately and kept together. Parents can re-unite with their children outside. And we will need to refrain from trying to exit the parking lot with our vehicles.
Hopefully this report is informative and an encouragement to all of you. Thank you to those who were here that morning for your great spirits through all of that confusion.
Secondly, two weeks later, on March 3rd someone came up on the platform and sought to share with the congregation. I have heard from many that they were alarmed that this person might have intended harm to me or to the congregation. And I know that many of you began to pray for the Lord’s grace and protection over the interaction. I am grateful for those prayers and I believe they were answered. I personally never felt threatened, and I know that our security team had moved into place to take action, should it have been needed. I am grateful for their restraint. Ultimately we were able to resume the service without too much disruption.
I am hesitant to even address this situation, because one of my primary goals has been to honor and protect the dignity of everyone involved, including the person who came up on the platform. But I think it is important for those of you who were here that day and who were part of that unsettling incident to know how we have responded. We have sought to follow up with the person involved and to make sure that her needs are being addressed. I don’t think it is appropriate to say anything further regarding her or her specific concerns.
Again we did a thorough de-brief with our staff about that morning to insure that we can learn all we need to learn from this incident. A couple things emerged that I believe are appropriate to share with all of the congregation. First, there is a protocol for anyone who believes they have something important to share with the entire congregation during the service. You should bring what is on your heart to one of the pastors for us to weigh and discern whether and how to share the matter. This is one of the reasons we all sit together in the front of the sanctuary. We are regularly checking in with one another about what we are discerning the Lord to be doing in the meeting and how we might lead the congregation to respond. When a matter is brought to the pastors and then to the congregation, the congregation can have the benefit of knowing that (even if this is a change in plan or a course correction) that there has been prayerful discernment given to the matter. When someone comes up to the platform “unauthorized,” it tends to make all of us rather uneasy and it is hard to be open to receive encouragement, inspiration or revelation when we are feeling unsettled.
Secondly, Pastor Wes reminded us in our staff debrief that we are actively seeking to depend upon God for the protection over our gatherings. A few of us meet every Sunday in the conference room at 9:30 to pray for the morning service (any of you are welcome to join us for that time). In addition to praying for the Lord to meet us in the time of worship and through his word, we pray for many other things, including protection over everything that happens on the property while we are gathered here. Only a couple months ago Pastor Wes felt strongly impressed in his spirit to be praying for protection over the morning. He shared that with the rest of us and we prayed for the Lord’s safety and intervention over the classes, the service, the interactions in the building and parking lot. Before the service Wes shared this concern with our ushers, the elders in the prayer watch and our security team. Nothing untoward happened that morning; but I believe that was a result of prayers being answered. The Lord is ultimately the Head of our church, including the security team.
While this report might not be the most exciting of news to share, I am grateful for the encouragement to share this information with all of you. Any who would like to further discuss these matters—or related topics—please contact any of the pastors, staff, or elders.