A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: BALANCING HOSPITALITY AND SAFETY
This week, I want to inform you about some changes to our building access that the Board of Trustees has approved on a trial basis, and which we will begin next Monday, November 22 and run through at least January 15; the Trustees will evaluate at their January meeting and determine whether to continue them, adjust them, or return to our current practices.
These changes are in response to some building security concerns that have come to light since we have reopened the building after its closure during the worst of the pandemic, so let me explain those and then what we will be doing to try and address them appropriately and effectively.
As I often like to say, our building is simultaneously one of our greatest congregational assets and our greatest congregational challenges. The sheer size and complexity of the church building is one of the key dynamics in so many ways related to it being both an asset and a challenge. This is true in terms of security, as well.
On a given weekday when the church is open, there are essentially three main ways to get into the building: the South Entrance right by the Church Office; the accessible entrance on the west side of the North Link between the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall; and what I’ll call the “North Entrance” on the east side that is near the warming kitchen that links to the Kirk Center/Gym and Preschool.
During the day, these entrances are all more or less under observation: Facilities staff are generally around the latter two, and Office Receptionists can see the South Entrance. After 4 p.m., though, the Office Receptionists close the office and go home, and thus the South Entrance is no longer under observation at the precise time when building activity in the South Building tends to be growing low (our evening committees are generally meeting on Zoom these days and thus not gathering in those spaces as they did pre-pandemic).
From a security standpoint, this is problematic, as it means someone can enter the building without anyone being aware of it and have access to the entire South Building and even beyond, as staff and evening programs are generally in the northern areas of our complex at that point. And, in fact, we have had multiple “visitations” from unknown persons through the South Entrance since we have reopened the building because of this problem. Fortunately, those particular people did not take anything or cause any problems, but the potential risks there are both obvious and significant.
Accordingly, the Trustees have approved, on the trial basis described above, a shift in our building access through the South Entrance. That entrance will be open as usual from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, when the Office Receptionists are on duty. Whenever the Church Office is closed, however, the South Entrance will be closed as well, and anyone wishing to enter the building while it is open after 4 p.m. will need to do so through the North Entrance by the warming kitchen.
Remember there is an elevator there that provides accessibility for people who need to get to Fellowship Hall or elsewhere on that level of the building, so you should plan to park in the back of the church and enter through the North Entrance in any case after 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Finally, please remember that both the Church Office and the South Building are closed on Fridays and Saturdays, and so unless there is a specific event happening on one of those days (i.e., a memorial service, a fellowship program, a mission project), the South Entrance will be closed and you will also not be able to enter the South Building from the North Entrance; that entrance is open on Fridays for the Preschool and not at all on Saturdays.
As always, one of the challenges for hospitality is balancing openness with safety, and we feel like these steps will be helpful for getting us back into balance for the use of our buildings. However, we welcome any feedback, questions, or concerns that you have during this trial period; you can send an email with your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be passed on to the Board of Trustees for inclusion in their evaluation process. Thank you!
Grace and Peace,