I have been hearing a lot about church break-ins and/or vandalism lately, but it is a unique time for there is also things filtering my way about how to make our buildings welcoming for new comers or those who may not normally darken the door (or should that be lighten?). At first blush it would appear these are exclusionary topics from one another. Yet they can go hand in hand, for the best security is not a lock down approach but a “we are a home in the community” approach is my idea.

I approach the idea of part of the community not separate, because my hypothesis is that most vandalism stems out of hatred/boredom; and most break ins of institutions such as this at this point in history could be tied to the opioid crisis and other economic factors where literally it is smash and grabs for quick cash and valuables that can be dumped through those “gold/silver for cash joints”. Much like the break in at our own home a few years back.

These are just some thoughts from a community planner, not a security expert, but what could be possible, and may change trends. There are some factors that cannot be changed:

  • Location of the church building. It is where it is, so amount of traffic by will not change usually.
  • Varying of schedule of comings and goings as there is set times for events, office hours, etc. In fact, for safety of staff in an urban setting unless there is a plan for multiple folks to be there at varying times I would not encourage.

What can be done, some thoughts on the possible?

  • Ensure you have connected with the neighbours in a positive way. An example of this is signage around property- is it negative (i.e stay off the grass) or welcoming (i.e. free library at door).
  • Are there known offerings within the community that the building uses so many people who may never attend service, know the building exists and when there is usually and not usually activity. That is, if they notice activity around non-active times they will call at least non-emergency CPS or the office. On a quick smash and grab any sound will change rhythm.
  • Locks- not a fan of them. Yes I understand exterior locks need to happen, but when you have locks throughout the building on doors, etc. you encourage more damage to happen with break ins. For a lock to someone in desperation means wealth lies behind.
  • In church signage. Seems a weird thing, but it allows for proper streaming of traffic. Simple signs posted with arrows showing which rooms are where, in the foyer post a white board with that night’s activities and where they are before closing up for the day. That way those that come in know where they are going, anyone new to those events also knows where they are going. A simplicity act of welcome that shows value to an individuals time.
  • Lines of sight. This is a big one. I remember from being apart of the family general contracting company talking with what businesses want and what police would recommend. Is the interior visible and easily so, or is it cut off some how. This can be art work or an unnecessary barrier blocking eye sight. For most churches I have noted it is shrubbery. How do you deal with it? Simple, if it is around windows how about a shift from shrubbery to tea/coffee spot? Remove the shrubs, build a simple floating deck with sitting artistic benches (partner with local disability groups, schools to craft these) so folks have a spot to sit and enjoy, rest, and be. The simple act of welcome also encourages the varying of those around without changing staff/volunteer schedules. Also, you will find repaint/staining of benches a lot cheaper that replacement costs on property breakage.
  • Security systems- understand why they exist, understand insurance asking for them. Not a fan, simply like a safe in a store cast the look that there is valuables. Although from retail what can be learned is the decals on the door- no money on premises. Simple to the point, and cheap way.
  • Offer some fun community events (many can learn from the Baitun Nur Mosque at Prairie Winds Park or Robert McClure United Church) whether it is a stampede breakfast, Canada Day fun, Farmer’s Markets, food cupboards, garage sales, free giveaways, seniors teas, an open house to meet your (insert religion here) neighbours… the list can go on as you get creative, perhaps like Crossroads Community Church a Community Meal? Get out and discover where your community can have points of intersection for people to gather and get to know one another—these are the opportunities to build a healthy community watch where one looks out for one another.

Some thoughts along the journey, one can also implement in their own home with some adjustments for healthy community, and belonging that will reduce those activities that harm.

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