“The times they are a changing!’ And it’s time to be prepared!
The same day that I sat down to write this article I received an alert from the National Counter Terrorism Policing Head Quarters (NCTPHQ). This is nothing new – as a member of the association of security consultants I receive these on a regular basis.
What was so alarming for me was the fact that Christian communities have been, over the last year, such high-profile targets for terrorism – according to the NCTPHQ, listed alongside police, military, Christian communities, night time economies, concert halls, sports stadia, shopping centres, bars, cafes, airports out of the above list of targets. Which is the odd one out and why?
This list is based on information gained by our security services. And the point I am making is that we should all sit up and take this seriously; we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand.
Since becoming a Christian in 1983, I have always had a strong interest in supporting the persecuted church around the world, and seen how church buildings, and more importantly Christian communities, have been targets for radicalised organisations and individuals.
Unfortunately, this has got worse in the last few years, with unprecedented types of attacks over the past 14 months, such as in Paris, Nice, and in Rouen, where an 84 year old priest was beheaded while taking Mass in his church. In December, two weeks before Christmas, a bomb exploded in the Coptic Christian cathedral complex in Cairo, Egypt.
But what can we do? And how should we respond? We are almost paralysed by the horrific thoughts of what if….? Could this happen in my church?
Well in the words of Bob Dylan “The times, they are a changing”! And frankly, yes something could happen.
How do we begin thinking about mitigating against the array of threats? Well, there are things that can, and should, be done; some of the key things costing little or nothing in terms of financial outlay. For instance, stewards appointed to welcome people into church should be capable of not only doing just that, but also able to restrain in the event of the wrong person trying to enter.
Last month as part of a course I’m doing with my church, I had the opportunity to visit a synagogue in Birmingham, and was surprised that I had to be vetted a few weeks before going there. Even when I arrived I was not able to simply walk in, even into the perimeter gate.
Now I’m not for a second suggesting we lock our gates, bolt our doors, and get every visitor checked. The point is that Jewish communities here in the UK have had to be vigilant for a long time about the very serious threats posed to their communities, and have thought about it very seriously, risk-assessed the threats, mitigated against them, and put in place appropriate measures. Is it not time to take seriously protecting not only our congregations, but also visitors to our churches?
I hear the cynic in my head say that anyone who is determined enough will do what they want anyway, if they are determined enough. That is probably true to some extent, but if all the various risks have been thought through, and whatever we can put in place has been duly done, we will at least have, in our minds, the knowledge that we have acted with due diligence, and done everything that we could to have prevented it.
On the very same day I started to prepare this article, I watched with horror the breaking news of the attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, and again on New Years Eve, the attack on the nightclub in Turkey. Neither incidents had any mitigation’s in place against the attacks that took place. The day after the incident in Berlin, I went into to Birmingham city centre to do my Christmas shopping, and was pleased to see the authorities had installed concrete bollards to prevent a similar style of attack happening.
But Brett, these are huge incidents what have they got to do with our local churches you might ask. Well, it’s the principle. To give you a very real and simple illustration, what – to me – is wonderful about the church entrance pictured alongside this article is not just that the high security entrance doors look great (which I would say, as they are Warrior Doors!) but it is the story behind.
This particular church suffered a frenzied attacked by someone suffering from serious mental issues, not once but twice. This church regularly hosts over 50 mothers and toddlers, and also a large youth group. The standard glazed windows were broken, but the attack resistant glass in the doors we provided held back the attack.
The ‘wonderful’ bit is this: I visited this church for a Sunday evening service not long ago, and before it started I was chatting with one of its leaders. These two incidents came up in conversation, and I was told that the person responsible for the attack was there, that evening, and regularly goes along to the services. Wow!
As Jesus said: “we must be as wise as Serpents yet as gentle as doves“.
By Brett Barratt, Managing Director.