What If a Divorced Parent Came to Your Church Intent on Doing Harm?
What would you do if a divorced parent you knew came into your church armed and with the intent of doing harm?
It is sad to think we have to worry about protecting our children at church. However, it is a must if you want to provide a safe place for children. There have been cases where an armed person or a shooter has walked into a church building with the intent to do harm. Churches can become targets for people of rage, divorce, discontent and those on some sort of substance.
- Some of these people are trying to make a statement.
- Some are getting back at the institution of “church” perhaps from something from their past.
- Sometimes it might be due to a mental illness
- Sometime it might be a parent in the midst of a divorce
With the stress in our world today and coming into the holiday season where even more people will be stressed, now might be a good time to evaluate your church’s policies and procedures. It is especially important to think through possible scenarios regarding children of divorce.
The holiday season can bring up many issues with children of divorce and their single parents. Parents can become angry, enraged or sad and depressed.
What do you do? How do you protect your church and more importantly how do you protect your children and your children’s area?
When It Is a Divorced Situation
If it has been a situation where there has been abuse or possible PTSD in the parent, church staff needs to be made aware. Without spreading gossip, key team players need to be notified in advance.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
If there is a restraining order, the church needs to have a copy and key people in the children’s areas need to know where a copy of the retraining order is kept. It should be kept under lock and key.
If an armed intruder gets into the children’s area and they are one of the parents of one of the children in your group, call the authorities immediately. Even if you know the parent, call the authorities and even if you think someone else has called the authorities, you also call as soon as you can.
It would be good to have a code to use in a situation where the volunteers know the parent but the parent is armed.
Because the intruder is known to members of the church a predetermined code will alert everyone to the seriousness of the situation. Someone can text the situation to leadership. “Samantha’s dad is here. Red alert!”
This dad might have been at home alone in his new apartment. He could have been drinking or he could have gone into despair and wanted to get his child. He may know the layout of the church as well as all the volunteers. He decides to come to the church building and kidnap his child.
Calm Down or Distract
In most situations like this, if there is any way you can calm the intruder down or distract him until the authorities have arrived do so.
Do not give his child or children to him. Keep in mind you are there to protect and keep all the children and the adults safe.
Do not talk to the intruder if at all possible. But if he comes into your area and there is no escaping, remain as calm as possible.
Speak slowly and distinctly.
Gather the Kids
While the lead person is talking to the armed parent intruder, other volunteers need to gather the children and if at all possible get them out of the area. If not possible separate them into groups and get them involved in activities to distract them.
Have a Plan
Hopefully your church has a security team in place and they already have procedures and protocols in place. They know in advance who contacts:
- The police
- Fire department
- Parents not on sight
They have trained staff who know what to do and how to go into lock down mode.
Listen to Your Kids and Be Prepared
Listen to the children in your church classes. If one of them mentions a dangerous situation, pay attention. One children’s minister said one of her kids came to church one day and said, “My daddy said he is going to kill himself.” When this happened, it was taken seriously.
A minister took another person with him and visited with the parent. They were able to get help for the divorcing parent. In this situation everything turned out good in the long run. However, if the leadership had ignored this situation, it very well could have led to a suicide or even the suicidal person coming to the church with the intent to do harm.
Plan ahead and be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
(For more information on developing your church’s policies and procedure for armed intruder look for Linda’s book, “Attract Families to Your Church and Keep Them Coming”.)For more resources and information on divorce, family disruption and modern families please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Divorce and Modern Family Help Center.
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on November 12, 2013.