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Revelation 21:21 – “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate being made from a single pearl.”

Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be found in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Photo by Nerene Grobler on Unsplash

These two biblical quotes raise the odd notion that heaven is a gated community. Apparently, there are gates to heaven, whether to keep people in or out is uncertain. As a side note, hell has gates as well. But it is generally understood that those gates keep souls from escaping hell. Moreover, these heavenly gates appear to have locks on them which require keys to open them. Historically, the church has taught that Saint Peter holds these keys, based on the Gospel of Matthew’s claim that Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom. Those keys can be seen in the papal insignia which has, since medieval times, shown the keys along with the three-tiered papal tiara because the Pope is the Bishop of Rome and Peter is believed to be the first Bishop of Rome (and likely is buried beneath the great basilica named for Peter).

It seems ironic to envision heaven as a place with locks and gates. It seems also ironic that the Episcopal Church has, for over fifty years, championed itself with the ubiquitous sign, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” yet most churches are locked most of time. What we accept, sometimes uncomfortably, is that we must balance radical welcome with legal liability and security. And that balance is often in tension. We say we want to practice radical hospitality and claim to welcome the stranger or visitor but, at the same time, we have serious protocols about locks and gates and keys and codes and spotlights and passwords – all to protect our buildings and ourselves. We think we own our possessions, but often they own us. It is a dilemma.

This occasional paper is about managing the security we need while practicing the radical welcome we espouse. It seeks to provide information to congregations about what options are available to them for being sensible, for acknowledging the need for safety of parishioners, employees, and guests, and being an open and welcoming community. As always, these lists are not exhaustive, merely illustrative of issues congregations must consider.

Photo by Samantha Lam on Unsplash

  1. All congregations should discuss what level of risk they are willing to take to balance the need for open-ness and welcome and the need for stewardship and security of people and things. That, in turn, will determine the next steps.
  2. All congregations should review their policies on keys – who gets them, what levels of keys exist, and how to track where those keys are. Congregations who do not know how many keys are in circulation should re-key all buildings and then re-issue keys only to those who truly need them. Each issued key should be noted in a permanent record. Keys should be “leveled” with only a few master keys permitted. All other keys should be limited in terms what access the key permits. These levels should also include passwords, codes, or any other devices used to control access to parts of any buildings. Locking spaces for purses and other personal items brought in by volunteers must be provided.
  3. All congregations should conduct a safety assessment of the buildings and grounds by walking the property to see where doors and windows can be shielded from view and, therefore, become more vulnerable to break-ins. Close-in shrubbery should be trimmed. Motion sensitive lights and/ or video cameras should be used to reduce attempts to force entry. Paths to and from parking areas should be lit as well as the parking lots themselves.
  4. Highly sensitive areas of the building should be separately locked or have additional security to protect funds or expensive equipment or sacred vessels. Important documents should be in locked cabinets that are also heat-shielded. Computer passwords and computer firewalls should be in place and reviewed to prevent unauthorized use of church computers.
  5. Congregations with pre-schools or schools should review security protocols for classroom areas, bathroom access, drop-off and pick-up policies, supervised play areas on church property, and related safety issues when serving other people’s children.
  6. Congregations should review their grounds for “attractive nuisances” that may need additional security or fencing or removal of the “nuisance.”
  7. Use agreements should be clear about building security, obtaining and returning keys, use of equipment, security and cleaning deposits, and the use of alcohol on church property.
  8. Congregations with concerns about levels of insurance coverage or general security concerns should speak with Alan Johnson, the area representative for Church Insurance Corporation. He can be reached at
  9. Congregations with concerns about fire safety issues should contact the Fire Marshal at your local fire department to request a building and grounds review.
  10. Congregations should have and maintain adequate fire alarms, smoke detectors, CO2 detectors, water intrusion alarms, and other devices that will announce problems. Modern devices are now connected to the Internet so alarms can be sent to smartphones if desired. Someone still needs to do something about the information sent but having the information sent to a smartphone can expedite a response and save money, buildings, and even lives.
  11. While stewardship means keeping the campsite better than it was when we found it, we also acknowledge that it is only stuff, and all stuff can be replaced. Humans matter far more than stuff. Protecting all humans is much more important. It is not good to protect our stuff by endangering our people. There are no hearses with trailer hitches.
  12. It is entirely possible to welcome the stranger warmly while keeping an eye on the silverware.
Keys and Gates – Managing Security While Welcoming the Stranger: An Occasional Paper on Property Management in the Diocese of Olympia Series

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