This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of Being the Only Staff Member at Church One Sunday….
Sarah Briggs resides in Asheville, NC and works in Hospital Development and Family Support Services for LifeShare of the Carolinas. She is a graduate of Wingate University and the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, where her focus was Christian Education and Formation. She enjoys live music, spending time with the folks she loves, and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains she is lucky enough to call home.
One Sunday, all of the staff members at my church were at convention… except for me, the lowly youth minister. This was the weekend after the ISIS shootings in Paris.Things at the 8am service seemed to be going as usual. There was one interesting looking individual who had come in. He had interesting looking clothes and a walking stick. I assumed he was homeless, as homeless folks often feel welcomed in our church.
During the service, I had noticed some interesting wood located underneath the altar table. Sometimes there are different decorations there depending on the day of the church year, so I didn’t think much of that either.
After the 8am service, I went about my duties of preparing for children and youth Sunday school. Everything was normal until I noticed the police car out the window. Being the lonely staff member present that day, I went to see what was going on.
I found a few parishioners, our supply priest for the day, and a police officer in the sacristy with a note and several items they’d found – left by the interesting looking individual from before. Some of the items were some sort of Middle Eastern looking statue head, some beer bottles, and a pin with flowers in it. They began filling me in on the contents of the note and the things that had happened that morning.
Our verger, who opens up the church, found beer bottles in the baptismal font. On the note were the names of several obscure religious organizations, the final name on the list were “ISIS.” That’s what gave the parishioners who found it cause to call the police. At this point, we were all very uneasy.
The individual had left after our service, and an officer agreed to come back for the 10:30 service just to sit and be vigilant. We all felt good about that. In the meantime, I was doing crowd control with worried parents wondering why there were now 5 police cars in the church parking lot on Sunday morning.
As the 10:30am service began, we had several men of the church who paced around, looking out the windows, and being vigilant throughout the service. The police chief came and said he had seen the items found on the church property before, and they were items of ISIS worship. This put the few of us in charge on edge. The police decided to do a bomb and weapon sweep of the entire church. While they were doing this, the individual who had left the items there came walking back up to the church door. I ran to tell the officers, who immediately went outside and began chasing the man who had started to run. He threw some sort of item in the into the bushes. Finally the officers caught him, arrested him, and walked him back up to the church parking lot just as the building got an “all clear.”
He was taken to the police station and questioned, just before the service let out.
It was a very surreal day for me as a minister. There are some things – really, many things – that seminary training does not prepare you for. I know this is an extreme example of what could potentially happen in a church, but it’s important for churches to remain vigilant and keep folks safe, even while being welcoming.
After this event, our church began looking at our safety measures, our gun control policy (which was stirred up after someone showed up with a gun around children – another story for another day!), and how we keep our church members safe while still welcoming all of God’s people.