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Safe Church

November 14, 2020

Ironies Happen.

Horrific abuse by adults upon minors has plagued all places where trust allowed for violation. Boys Scouts, school, and, yes, where people go to be closer to God.

The results have nearly bankrupted some churches, wrecked others, and fully changed the mindset of every adult towards every child in every place of worship: it has even been codified in a broad perspective and hard-edged revision of conduct, even rebuilding physical layouts of buildings. That necessary and right protection regimen has been dubbed “Safe Church”.

In the wake of COVID19, almost no one here in the northeast goes into places of worship, so the opportunity for abuse has abated. Until it returns. But until it does the phrase “Safe Church” has a new meaning. Now, it seems, Church is more dangerous than other places.

“I do not want this church to open until no one will feel guilty about being afraid to attend it.” said one cleric on a Zoom meeting this summer. Safety of everyone, in every way, no matter if the person is present or wants to be present.

Guilt or insensitivity are the collateral damage of righteousness. Finding them is thus a prime directive of those who want no guilt and no insensitivity. Is that absence possible, even if we are fully open and affirming in all ways?

I do not think so.

Whether we believe in God or not, we live our lives under one essential structure “First Do No Harm”. In this Plague Time that has come to mean lock downs and being masked. And yet we are exploding in infections. Everywhere, even where whole nations across the world legally kept everyone indoors.

I think there is a finite limit to the avoidance of harm. When I could not do what others could do, in school, in sports, in my career, I felt hurt, inadequate, discovered as being inferior. I felt victimized by others doing exactly zero against my wants and desires.

Of course we cannot sing, together. Of course we cannot be nearer than 2 meters apart . Of course we must be masked. Of course we cannot be in confined spaces. But even when we do all those things, we still can project a lack of safety to some.

So when Supreme Court Justice Alito drives some crazy by saying closing or limiting houses of worship as a “disfavored right” while more extensive opening of casinos and shopping malls happens across town, I wonder, are the places where we try to meet God different than where we go to do anything, now, or ever?

Right now, in the northeast, it is. Gatherings in churches and other spiritually focused spaces are more restricted in the number of people than other public places. Phase 2 of my home state of Connecticut’s COVID19 regulations allows 25% capacity up to 100 people inside a church. Libraries, “personal services” and restaurants can have 50% and no upper limit. Why?

In Connecticut there was no high school football as well, (save the oddly named “touch” in a socially distanced mindset). But similarly, there probably will be indoor wrestling We are in a strange time where the aesthetics and peripheral realities of gathering may mean as much or more than the actual act of gathering.

So, some who love the church want no one in churches in this season. While those outside church want fewer people in church than in other places. But most all of us just want to be safe. Well, at least children are more safe in places of worship during these horrid times, with none of it due to “Safe Church” policy.

I just want to be in proximity to those who love God. It is not enough for me to watch on a screen, or reading Mockingbird, I want to be in Sacred Space, unthreatened and unthreatening: I want spiritual safety. We know how to do this. Stay apart. Do not sing. Do not speak in unison. Do not be in small spaces.

But these rules are not enough it seems. We can still threaten each other just by being in places others want to be but will not go. Or even being threatened while being in places at a lower concentration than in other places at higher concentrations allowed by law. Because…

We are in purgatory. The venal, profane world of our normal humanity has been pulled away from its social vehicles. Our connection to sacred space and with each other has been fully circumscribed. We cannot act on our worst impulses, or, in the case of being part of our sacred spaces, acting to be with others with God – but only because we might infect others.

But we are infecting each other more effectively than than at anytime since this plague commenced. We are less safe, in every way – except for the victims of those preying on the least of us. That Safe Church reality is a reality that we can have, for now.

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