Prepare yourself; this will be a bit of a venting rant. You have been forewarned.
Background: We rent our school building from a Catholic Church that used to run their own school. The buildings are connected. But the church has made the boundaries clear. They don't want students in the lawn area around the church--only the area around the school. I guess there was some concern last year about students climbing in trees and breaking branches and such. I would regularly spend my break time in the church courtyard on the benches that surrounded a shrine of the Virgin Mary and Christchild--having some quiet time, reading my Bible app, making some phone calls/texts to friends, reading, journaling, etc.
I was out there today when I was approached by a man whom I assume was the priest (though he was without clerical collar or any identifying marks). He asked if I was waiting for someone. I replied I was on my break and enjoying some quiet time. He, in a Minnesota nice manner of indirectness, asked me not to be there--but to feel free to finish up what I was doing today.
There had been some vandalism recently. Plus, he seemed to want to maintain the clearness of the school/church boundaries.
I get it. I do. A friend of mine who pastors in town recently experienced arson at his church as well as some hate-based vandalism. We don't live in an age where churches can leave their doors open during the day as a sanctuary.
Still, I initially felt a bit perturbed, to state it mildly. And not necessarily specifically at that church, but at the church culture as a whole. I know hat church isn't the only place I would experience such a thing.
Have we gotten to a point where we're afraid of people finding sanctuary even in our outdoor spaces? Why bother having church yards with gardens and statues? Wouldn't having people utilizing those spaces help deter vandalism?
Now it's easy for me to be a little judgmental here as I'm not working in a church at the moment (the last one I worked at had a nice prayer garden that was utilized by neighbors, though it was well hidden from public view, I guess). The church we attend doesn't own it's own building. It doesn't even have outdoor space other than a parking lot.
I know that churches need to be cautious. I think we're missing out though when we can't be sanctuaries and places of refuge. Shouldn't we be trying to invite people into our spaces instead of trying to push them out?
What are your thoughts? How do we balance safety and security with openness to the community?