We have all been shocked in recent weeks and months with the rise in gun-related crime and mass shootings in supermarkets, schools, and churches. The Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestia Hills, Alabama, spoke movingly of the three victims who had invited the man to sit at their table at the monthly potluck. “Three of the most faithful people kept inviting this member of our community to sit with them and be with them and they loved him, and it cost them their life. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that they would do it again,” said Fr. John Burras, “they modeled how to live in love, offering food and companionship.”
Standing so prominently on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, and open every day of the year, necessities that certain precautions must be taken to ensure the safety and security of our physical buildings and the thousands of people who visit our sacred space, annually.
For many years, we have contracted security guards and medical personnel to help support our staff and volunteers to monitor, protect, and act in the event of an emergency. Many of you have come to know our security team and duty nurse well and we are incredibly thankful for the vital role they serve in protecting us from harm.
As part of our strategic plan for the parish, the Standing Committee of the Vestry and a security sub-group of the Buildings Committee, has been exploring additional measures that we can undertake to ensure the safety of our worshippers, especially our vulnerable adults and our children.
Their recommendations could not have come at a more appropriate moment. Over the next year, enhancements to fire protection, building safety, and physical security will be undertaken as part of a comprehensive security and safety plan for both the Church and School.
The Vestry has voted unanimously to appropriate additional funding to support these efforts — keenly aware of our duty to God to promote a culture of openness and accessibility. Of note, members of staff spoke movingly at the meeting in support of the Vestry’s actions to enhance safety precautions for those who worship and work at Saint Thomas.
Regarding deterrence and proactivity, the Vestry has approved the committee’s recommendation to install an unobtrusive weapon-detection system in the Narthex, at the entry doors. This action was not taken unadvisedly, and extensive research and testing had already been underway by the security sub-group.
The electronic system we will deploy is very discreet and not at all like the kind of airport-security that is used in other places. The system is flexible, portable, and used by federal and state security services around the country. It will be integrated with additional monitoring systems and into the existing safety apparatus of the building. While small changes to entry and exit procedures will be developed, they will be minimal. When the system is installed, it will mean that we will have one set of doors for entry, and another for exit.
During holiday services or other large gatherings, we will increase the number of detectors to alleviate any bottlenecks. However, for regular Sunday services we do not anticipate any significant delay to entry. Note the system is designed to detect firearms and is so well-tuned that even a mobile phone will not trigger an alarm.
Regarding emergency response, the Vestry also approved the committee’s recommendation to contract with the NYPD to have uniformed officers stationed on the steps of Saint Thomas Church, as is common at St. Patrick’s and other cultural institutions in the city. In the event of any emergency, response time is critical.
The leadership of the Church and School takes seriously its obligation to keep everyone as safe from harm as we can, especially our parishioners, concertgoers, and loyal volunteers who are at the entrance of our church and who welcome people into God’s House. Unfortunately, those who seek to harm others have a very different agenda from us.
This is the first stage of a comprehensive review includes the parish House and Choir School.
We will continue to update the parish as our security and safety plan is implemented, however, if you have any questions, please email me or the Wardens of the Vestry.