It used to be that houses of worship were sanctuaries – providing refuge from trouble and harm. Indeed, the doors of many churches were never locked, allowing passers-by to go in, whether to say a prayer, to light a candle, or to get out of the cold.

Houses of worship rarely attracted trouble. Those days appear to be behind us. The shocking massacre of innocent people at two mosques in Christchurch recently was another in a line of recent incidents that have caused outrage, shock and, most sadly, deaths.

In late October last year, a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and shot 18 people, killing 11 of them.

The year before, a gunman murdered 26 in a Baptist Church near San Antonio. In mid-2015, nine people were killed during a prayer service at an Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

All of those violent incidents happened in the United States but, as we saw earlier this month, they can also occur in relatively peaceful societies. Any place where crowds gather can be a potential target.

Houses of worship face a dilemma: they want to be open sanctuaries but, at the same time, also private and secure. Once upon a time, and for a long time, that was much easier than it is today.

Some suggestions:

  • Conduct a security assessment; this is the basis of any security plan
  • Establish a safety committee to review the assessment, make decisions and continue to monitor security matters
  • Install security technology, such as video surveillance, access controls, intercoms, notification systems and other devices that are deemed necessary and affordable
  • Raise funds to ensure the upkeep and improvement of security technology
  • Try to negotiate a police presence during hours of services and/or engage a security firm to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour.

Ultimately, maintaining the peace anywhere relies on the goodwill of all. When individuals or groups are determined to cause harm, it will always be difficult to protect places that are welcoming sanctuaries for strangers and which leave their doors open for those who want to visit.

EPS is happy to advise on securing places of worship.


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