Why church attacks hurt so much

There’s a unique horror in a violent attack inside a church. In any place of worship — but since I worship (and work) in a church, that’s where I write from. The loss and grief are huge; the wave of suffering overturns individuals and families and buffets the entire community. And a sacred space is violated.
A church is a place set apart for a unique purpose — worship. Worship is a transformational activity that brings the worshipper into the presence of God and God into the midst of the worshippers. It is both public and intensely private, and it changes people — and spaces.

The place where worship happens acquires a holy shine. That’s what we call sacred.

That sacredness is acknowledged in the way that churches exist as both public and private spaces. We have a security system in our building and locks on our doors for when we need them. But all day long, passersby come in to use the washrooms, to look around and (even) to pray. Outside, dogwalkers are reading headstones as they wander through the churchyard, and office workers are lunching on the benches that a church member has generously restored to gleaming beauty. No one is asking our permission — and we’re okay with that.

When it comes to churches, there’s an assumption of access that, frankly, we’re obliged to preserve. It’s a tenet of our faith to be welcoming. We hope that whoever enters our sacred space will experience the sacred entering them.

That’s why church attacks hurt so much. After an act of violence, we can clean and scrub a sacred space and re-sanctify it with prayer and worship. But how do we repair that holy welcome? When locked doors, gates at the entrance and security passes for visitors become the norm, how does grace get in?

Laura Peetoom