Safe Church

Preventing Church Emergencies during Advent and Christmas

By the Rev Greg Ellis (gellis@epaumc.org)
Coordinator of Disaster Preparedness & Response Ministry and
Coordinator of UM Volunteers in Ministry
Eastern PA Conference, The United Methodist Church
Phone: 484 350 5965 (cell)

The Conference Disaster Preparedness and Response Committee does not want to be a wet blanket around celebrations. However, during Advent and Christmastime, many churches have more activity and people within their walls. So it’s worthwhile to remember a few cautions, so we can all celebrate the season safely.

Some considerations for services:

1) If you are having a candlelight service, your ushers (or others specifically tasked) should have fire extinguishers and blankets with them in the sanctuary or worship space. These individuals should be asked to watch over the service for worshipers’ safety rather than participating in the candle lighting.

2) Make sure walking paths are clear if you plan to invite people forward for Holy Communion. Remember, you will have many guests and infrequent attendees who may not know how you usually proceed forward and return to seats. So having extra ushers and assistants is helpful and hospitable.

Property matters:

1) Remember to extinguish candles when leaving a room. Double-check the building because many groups like to use Advent Wreaths, so there may be candles in more places than usual.

2) Don’t overload electrical circuits. Make sure extension cords are secured and are not a tripping hazard.

3) While the weather has been mild so far, when that changes remember to keep walkways to all building entrances free of ice and snow. Remember, your guests may not know what the “normal” entrance is.

4) If you have parking lot attendants, they need to wear high-visibility vests. Do not try to be “cute” or “fun” and wear blinking lights or other festive attire while directing traffic or pedestrians in a parking lot. Be festive in the building: be safe in the parking lot!

You need only turn on the nightly news or pick up a newspaper to see stories about people whose intentions are not holy but harmful. As churches our first inclination should be to follow Hebrews 13 1- 2: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

As a precaution, however, try to engage strangers in meaningful conversation. Ask their names and where they are from. Most people who would do harm or disrupt a service want to remain anonymous. Besides, you may make a new friend.

And remember the watchword we hear often these days from law enforcement officials: “If you see something, say something.”

Blessings to all during this Advent and Christmas season!

Deacon Greg