Being a downtown church means that each week among our community there are people of all walks of life—some more frequent visitors, others only once. It’s not uncommon for us to come face-to-face, any given Sunday, with those who are suffering from addiction, mental disorders, or horrendous trauma. People down on their luck. Individuals who were without a stable upbringing. Men and women who fell between the cracks of society and are unsure what to do or where to turn. Those without basic life skills, or perhaps even conditioned by others to act in toxic ways. Some who are transient and/or without permanent housing. When you’re positioned in the heart of a community, like Austin, you encounter everything. We’re not in rural America anymore, Toto. This also means that the great joys experienced here are never without their accompanying overwhelming sorrows. There is immense good happening; and yet we also witness firsthand some of the worst side of humanity. I was reminded this (holy) week, more than a couple times, that all is not always holy in our gatherings here at church. In a place where everyone should feel safe all the time, unfortunately there continues to be cases where some are threatened, violated, and depart deeply uncomfortable by the actions of others. This is unacceptable. We, here at St. Martin’s, have zero tolerance for any such misbehavior that transgresses another’s personal space or wellbeing. Any and all harassment, sexual or otherwise, will be met with immediate removal from the property and police contact.
This past Sunday, amidst all the hustle and bustle of Palm Sunday, an individual came on the premises and made a number of people very uncomfortable with his advances for physical contact and solicitation for money. As a result, he is no longer welcome on the property. This is not done lightly. It pains me to hear parishioners recall past instances when they’ve felt inappropriately engaged by another person. That being said, the trauma and grief should not be overlooked or ignored. If someone has crossed a boundary with you, I encourage you to share the matter as you feel comfortable. We are continually taking great measures in making this church and its facilities as safe as possible while remaining welcoming and missional in all that we do. This means being hospitable to all who enter. We don’t check people at the door, because to do so would be less than the church. Nevertheless, inappropriateness is never permitted. The Body of Christ, consisting of all those for whom Jesus died and rose from the grave, cannot allow for the abuse or assault of any of its members—in any regard. We fail to be who we are created and called to be if and when even one among us suffers in silence. The staff and leadership have been briefed on our zero tolerance policy and will respond swiftly in taking the necessary actions to ensure the safety of everyone who comes to St. Martin’s. As I pray this never happens here again, I know this cannot be said without constant vigilance. This means looking and listening, and if and when you see or hear something saying something. We are a community of faith, but we are also a community of justice. We trust everyone until given a reason otherwise, yet we work to live in accordance to the laws which seek to provide safety and security for all members of society.
All is not always holy. We see this daily in natural disasters, war and famine, senseless deaths in our communities…and the list goes on endlessly. The church, unfortunately, is no more immune than any other place from the implications of sin. As we weekly confess ourselves and receive Christ’s forgiveness, we do so sitting amidst a community that remains less than perfect. We, however, do not resign ourselves to “the way it will always be.” This is true this week especially. Though we cannot disregard the sin and death of Good Friday; neither does the story end there. Jesus is crucified on a cross at the hands an idolatrous empire. The One who dies, however, three days later is raised from the grave to new life. Resurrection is God’s NO! to the destructive and demonic ways of the world. Easter is our present hope and our future joy. It is, for us, a light amidst the darkness of despair. The way the world is now is neither how God intends it, nor how it will always be. Sin and death are coming to an end in the Crucified and Risen One, who promises to return—making all things new. In the meantime, as cruciform and resurrected people, we live in the diligence of caring for all people, protecting the vulnerable, and working to ensure safety and security in all places. This task is never fully mastered or completed on this side of the eschaton. We are daily called to participate in this work. To those who have been hurt in any regard while here at church, hear me when I say: I’m so deeply sorry for whatever happened to you in what should be a holy and safe space, and trust me that we as a congregation will be vigilant in assuring that that never happens again.
– Pastor Andrew