Last Sunday morning, a robbery and shooting happened a block from the church. A Birmingham police officer was shot trying to stop the robbery suspects. Officer Finke remains in the hospital today; but we rejoice that he is on the road to recovery. I had just arrived in the parking lot when the shooting occurred, but by the time much of our congregation were on the way to the church, many of Woodlawn’s streets, including ours had been barricaded. The investigation was in full force. It can be very disconcerting to drive towards your church and see blue lights flashing block after block. It can make you feel uneasy about the area.
In the past few years there have been dozens of shootings in and around places of worship. In today’s world, violence is not rare. And the neighborhood doesn’t seem to matter – it’s happened in cities and rural areas, large and small congregations, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. Even though last week wasn’t a “church-shooting,” it was very close to us at the time of our worship, and all kinds of possibilities ran through my head. I feel safe at our church. We have Ernest who watches the building and our parking lot on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We have a Safe Sanctuary policy to keep our children safe. The Church Council has asked the Trustees to create emergency plans for us to address scenarios that are more serious.
Beyond these safety measures, there is something else that I think is more important when talking about protection and reduction of crime. We have to be good neighbors. We have to have relationships with those who live and work around us. If our presence in Woodlawn doesn’t have a positive effect on what goes on around here, then I don’t think we’re living up to our mission to love our neighbor as ourselves. If you have ideas on intentional ways we can do this, come talk to me. I have some forming too. We have to do more than send our thoughts and prayers in this age of violence. We must act in sharing love and hope before, during and after these events happen.