The Christmas rush isn’t all bad


“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” so the song goes. Unfortunately, our Advent and Christmas can seem anything but calm. As I write this, it is mid-November, and yet, our congregation’s planning teams have already been working on our Christmas together for weeks. Christmas music has started to play in stores and in some cases on the radio. One of my neighbors has already set up their Christmas tree even though Advent doesn’t begin for almost two weeks!

Our society seems impatient to experience Christmas joy and peace. Perhaps this is because there is too little joy and peace in our world. At this time of year, it gets busier at our congregation and busier in our homes. Light dims and darkness grows. Unexpected bills happen. Sickness and death comes. After Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and on and on, terrorism and war frighten us. We hope for an ideal Christmas because our lives in a fallen world are always less than perfect. Too little is calm, and our future may seem dark to us. We often hunger for a reprieve from our pain and busy, unpredictable life.

Jesus came into a time of trouble not so unlike our own. People were lucky to reach their teens. Thirty was considered old. Israel was an occupied country with isolated rebels and thieves (especially in Judea) seeking to defeat the Roman Empire and perhaps get a little economic advantage and power for themselves at the same time. For their part, the Romans wished to assert their power at all costs. Their vassal king, Herod the Great, was known to be tyrannical if not a bit mentally unstable. It would be he who ordered all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem murdered over fear that the recently born Jesus would usurp his throne. Life was hard and often unfair.

Despite these threats, Jesus came as a most vulnerable babe. He was a child of scandal, for his neighbors had heard of Mary’s pregnancy prior to her marriage with Joseph. Many in that day were poor like Jesus’ own family, and they often lived and died by the discretion and generosity of others with higher stature. Jesus didn’t come into the world to avoid our pain. Instead, he embraced and crushed it forever. As one liturgical communion prayer reminds us, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.”

Most certainly, we can be encouraged that Jesus shared in our weakness and sorrows in order to share with us his victory over sin, suffering, death and the Devil. Against all odds, peace forcefully broke into our world to live among us and die among us through Jesus. For a moment, all was calm and all was bright because God was finally with us in the flesh. It was time for all creation to pause, worship and give thanks.

A mere 33 years later, all too soon, Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven. We were warned life would not be easy in his absence, but it wouldn’t remain hard for ever. Similar to our wait for Christmas morning, creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” It might prove a bumpy, fearful ride at times until then, but there can be joy on our journey. For Christmas day has come, and Easter is on its way. And all the while, we’re not alone. We are the church together: enlivened by God’s Spirit, sharing both our pain and joys with one another; offering pardon to those still in darkness. We are rushing not toward our death but toward a certain future filled with hope.

With all the saints before us, we can pray with confidence as we face any darkness, “Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” We don’t know the time, but we can trust Christ is already on his way. And when he comes, all will be calm and bright forevermore. For this time, Christ will be here to stay, and despite whatever might go on around us until then, I for one can’t wait. If that’s our future, let time fly.

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Hanging Around With God


Amy Delph of Messiah Lutheran goes Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91)


As our Virginia Synod team, “Fools for Christ,” prepared to rappel down 25 stories as part of Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia, there was indeed noticeable anxiety. One heard some nervous gallows humor about last words and breaking ropes. People pointed to those they blamed for getting them into this mess. Some people ascended to the roof top only to think better of it when looking at the edge separating them from the cold, hard ground below.

It isn’t unusual or foolish to feel fear at such moments, as fear is ultimately a God-given survival mechanism. Yet, some overcame their fear trusting in a greater purpose. Even for those who turned back, there was no shame. They had made the attempt. We all recognized our fear and vulnerability, and it created a comradery on that roof top; a sense of community. People sought to support each other with their prayers and kind words of encouragement in success or defeat – much like any church should do.

Yet for those of us who believe, it struck me that there was even greater comfort to be found. The certainty of God’s promises. When Jesus faced temptation on the pinnacle of the Temple, he thought of such comfort too.[i] He quoted Psalm 91 in the face of the Devil. It was the words he clung to for encouragement and safety.

Jesus understood his Father in Heaven and the heavenly host remained on guard. He could trust God as his dwelling place, and nothing could truly harm him. No fear need stop him from his mission. It is the same with our lives as we face whatever highs or lows, blessings or curses that might come. God is with us. God intends to protect those who love him and know his name. These are God’s promises, “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation” (emphases added). We can go over the edge into our future with confidence.

Yes, fortunately for us, God never lies. We need not let fear dictate our choices or behaviors. Failure need not define us. We are the beloved children of God together. Whether barely making it on a wing and a prayer, finding ourselves out on a limb, or hanging by a thread (or perhaps even a rope 400 feet above Cary Street), we are not alone for we have one another to turn to. Perhaps better still, God and the Heavenly Host is not only ready to catch us if we fall but has plans to lift us up to new life no matter what happens.

This month, we can rightly give thanks to God even if we feel at the end of our rope. God is with us, and God will never let us go.

[i] Matthew 4

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Gentle Living

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)

By now, word is spreading that there are some big changes going on at Messiah, and change is never easy for anyone. Our new worship time was generated by multiple requests to our worship team by lay members. Your elected leaders took this forwarded request (as with all inquiries by members) very seriously. They offered a survey to try to better discern preferences and insights, but they also have been reading and discussing articles, studies and books on congregational life, growth, and attendance patterns. They have considered historic practices at Messiah and the current practices of other congregations. They wrestled with the lack and inconsistencies of our financial and volunteer resources. They have attended retreats and workshops on stewardship and mission to help serve God, the church, and you better. I thank them for their service.

Your council made such efforts as much of the literature and research indicates that leading by seeking consensus alone tends to kill churches. Such church polity has been shown to promote both stagnation and discord. It can easily pit brothers and sisters against one another through lobbying, alliances and simple votes – breaking apart congregations as people take sides; resulting in support of what’s popular and not necessarily God’s call or what’s prudent. Governing the church by consensus isn’t biblical in and of itself. Yes, your council needs to consider the desires, expressed needs, and possible reactions of others out of love, but the church has always called leaders forward to use their God given gifts and seek the will of the Spirit all the more.

As promised when this process started, I said I would agree to whatever was deemed best for the health of the church. I did not vote on this matter, and I tried to play a Devil’s Advocate to all views. In the end, your elected leadership unanimously made their decision fully knowing not everyone would likely be happy or accommodated. They hope to promote health and stability in our shared mission.

No matter how you feel about this decision, I encourage all of us to remember our ultimate strength is found in loving God and one another even amidst differences. We won’t always agree as Christians. None of us always make the right or best decisions as human beings. Yet promoting unity and peace while continually seeking God’s guidance is always our best way forward.

I encourage all of us not only to give this effort a chance, but also to voice your questions, concerns or alternative ideas gently and in love to your council. If you feel called to do so, run for council or participate in ministry teams. I ask that you pray for patience, guidance and wisdom – for your own, but also for mine, the council’s, and the church’s benefit. Pray especially for those you feel are “enemies” or are failing you at any level.

The survey made clear that we are a very eclectic group with extremely varied needs and preferences. Worship styles, attendance patterns, giving and volunteering are dramatically changing across denominations. No congregation can ever meet all your needs any more than you can meet all of any congregation’s needs. Yet, we always need God and one another. The Spirit works in community despite our human frailty and sin. Community is the vehicle Christ has chosen to move his mission forward – asking for faith, hope and love rather than our perfection.

Christ’s peace be with you,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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No Human is a Pig

fergusonThese images from a recent Daily Mail article reminded me of something Br. Roger of Taize’ once shared while I was a volunteer with his community in France.

When the community was forming, a group of French communists in a nearby village wanted to protest the injustice and riches of Christianity. So, they killed a pig on some church steps one Good Friday. The pig was supposed to be Jesus.

Now, no police officer is Jesus per se, but it strikes me that systemic injustices (no matter how true or not) can’t be addressed by effigies reflecting personal agendas, ignorance, anger or hate. In doing so, we tend to objectify and dehumanize our “enemy”, which makes it harder to recognize any of our own wrongs. We also tend to promote conflict rather than justice and peace. A poet in the 1960s (Ginsberg?) said something like this: “If you call a person a pig enough, they’ll surely become one.”

Like Br. Roger, I’ll strive not to waste time with anger in response. I’ll seek all the more for reconciliation, justice and peace. I will pray for all in Ferguson and our nation, even those who might wish to be my enemy, for I think we all know not what we do when it comes to our current racial divide. I’ll take stock of my behaviors and try to repent where I can identify any of my wrongs. To be sure, there’s enough sin and stupidity to go around, because we all are human.

Perhaps instead of angrily talking, tweeting, posting and pointing fingers, we should try to listen better to one another and learn. Perhaps we should try to seek and recognize the love of God which is planted like a seed within each of us. We are all part of the problem, and we all have a lot to learn from one another.

Entering relationship with one another – as difficult as it might sound – is the way forward. I have seen its power at work through Taize’ prayers and gatherings time and again. Relationship is how Jesus often changes our lives and our lot. It is harder to hate our neighbor when we get to know them, but to do so, requires we put our anger, agendas and arrogance aside. We have to be willing to reflect upon and admit our own sin.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Read Matthew 5:43-48

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Pilgrimage to the “Big D” a Big Success

RiseUp Logo (300)

We continue to give thanks for the love and faithfulness of James Norman (Messiah Lutheran) and Megan Bower (All Souls Episcopal) after serving in Detroit during the ELCA’s 2015 National Youth Gathering, “Rise Up!” During their week with over 30,000 other Lutheran youth from across the United States, they worshiped God, heard inspiring speakers, participated in meaningful service, and attended concerts from leading Christian contemporary artists. They also made many new friends as they experienced educational and social events.

As Lutherans descended on the city, Detroit residents didn’t know what to make of it at first. Who were all these young people in bright orange and other neon colored shirts? They were polite and respectful…even helpful. They were singing joyfully and proclaiming Christ’s love loudly through word and deed.  A news article seemed to lament that the downtown area might seem like Disneyland for a few days. Our youth were called by one social media pundit “insufferably cheerful.” Another person said online that it looked as if a Skittles factory exploded, and a new Twitter hashtag was born (#SkittlesExplosion) to go along with the event’s #RiseUpELCA.

Ford Field - Detoit, Michigan

Ford Field – Detroit, Michigan

Yet as our youth got to work making friends amongst themselves and the community, helped local area nonprofits, and brought life and joy to a struggling economy and distressed community, attitudes quickly changed. Dare I say that both we and the city changed? The positive energy was palpable as love was made concrete. The youth discovered a welcoming city far from dead. The city itself responded in hospitality, joy and hope.

Social media captured many of the insights learned as well as the opening hearts. One resident was amazed at all the youth had done. They cleaned her neighborhood and made murals to help board up empty houses while providing beauty as well. She said what they had done “has physically, mentally, & spiritually made an impact.” Another posted, “Have not seen this many smiling faces in 1 place since well… ever! Thanks for visiting Detroit, Ya’ll come back now , Ya hear…” An impoverished, disabled resident marveled at the changes she witnessed on her street and the friendliness of all the youth. She said it was a highlight of her day to watch the youth at work and wave to them as they came and went each day.

IMG_1295The most wonderful change came through personal interaction. High fives and hellos poured down the Detroit streets. Residents would shout out their welcome and thanks. Cries of “Thank you, Lutherans! Thank you for coming here!” and “God bless you!” rose up like amens at an energetic Sunday morning worship. One taxi driver saw our group working hard cleaning a neighborhood on a mid-90 degree day with high humidity. Without being asked, he bought cold water for all and shared in friendly conversation as well. Choking up a bit, he said we were working on his grandparents’ old street. It brought back his boyhood memories as well as hope for a future in Detroit.

People would say over and over again, “Please share the good news about Detroit back home,” and “Say nice things about our city.” Honestly, a number of our 30,000 attendees expected Detroit to be only a filthy, crime-ridden city. Some parents were afraid (or at least a bit concerned) to let their youth go there. Yet, we all discovered much more in that city: a people rising up and reinventing their home, a hospitable and gracious welcome, yes, even new community.

For as the week wore on, race, class and geographical origin mattered less and less. We were rising up as one together and meeting the Risen Christ already in Detroit and at work. That’s the best news about Detroit. We didn’t come to save the city. Jesus does the saving, and we visitors and city residents were now the joint beneficiaries of his blessing.

To members of my congregation, I say thank you for supporting our All Souls/Messiah youth who attended. In three years, we might have more heading to Houston for the next announced Gathering. Until then, ask James and Megan to share their experience, faith and hope with you. They are part of this larger story, but have their own unique story to tell. Better yet, let’s rise up together, looking for the Risen Christ here in Hanover County, and join in his mission. Young or old, that’s what we’ve been called and sent here to do.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (August 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Relax & Let Go – Always!

matthew6_34“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Life is indeed challenging, but when the theology of our faith meets the bumpy roads of our lives, we will be reminded that God will make all things work for the good of those who love him in God’s good time.

Our Lord is sovereign, all powerful, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, all knowing, all loving, and you know what? God loves you – at every time and in all seasons, good and bad. So, we don’t need to walk alone, and we were never meant to do so. Our lives are not meant to be about pressure or time crunches, although those do happen. The fate of the world doesn’t rely on us even if it sometimes feels that way. Our God is, well, our God. We need to trust rather than work and worry.

True, we were created to share in God’s creative, redemptive work, but we are not God. We never will be. So, God provides us with a call to Sabbath, a time for rest, worship, and reconnecting to God and one another as a community. God provides us with people to love, care for and walk with us called family, friends and church. And if these should ever fail you as humans sometimes do? God in his Word directs us to cast all our cares upon Christ, for he cares for us.

We aren’t to shirk our responsibilities. We aren’t to hang back when called to act. We are not to forsake the assembly as some are prone to do. (Consider Hebrews 10:19-25, for example.) Yet we can let go, and let God do the heavy lifting in our lives through the grace and forgiveness offered us. The refreshing Fruit of the Spirit is always at our disposal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We don’t have to work for them. Yet, we need to slow ourselves down and savor their taste. We need to seek them out even when they seem most far off.

As the world seemingly goes crazy, we are called to discernment. Rather than asking what God is doing, we ask, “What should we be doing to help?” Sometimes there will be lots to do. Many more times the answer is “ do nothing” due to our powerlessness…nothing other than watch and wait in hope…nothing other than pray for God’s will to be done in our lives and the courage to live it out…nothing other than trusting that God’s Spirit is at work in the craziness around us and battling for our welfare just as promised.

What good does worrying do? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said it does no good at all. The wisdom of God isn’t as hard to live out as we might at first think. Do what you can as you discern that you are called to do. Seek to love God and neighbor as yourself. Yet also recognize God’s authority and love reigning over your life. You don’t have to be in control of everything. You don’t have to be your own savior. You can let God and others seek to love you, even as you seek to love them. Trust God to do what we cannot. The pressure is off.

At work or on vacation, rest in the Spirit that is reaching out to you. Attend to the Spirit and let it direct your path. Trust God in all things. Those who have God’s love have enough. This is the true wisdom of God.

As one saying goes, “Growing closer to God isn’t the result of working harder, but of surrendering more.” So, relax, and let Christ complete his work in you. The Spirit will make our paths clear and is there to catch us when we fall.

Wishing you a joyful summer with spiritual growth,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (July 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Church arson: More than a hoax or what meets the eye

Arson is a horrific crime. When motivated by hate, it becomes even more abominable. If in the context of the Charleston active shooter at Emanuel AME Church (Charleston, SC) and then eight black congregations erupting in flame within ten days, it causes great terror and outrage.

It is little wonder many reporters, pastors and others are tweeting and posting speculations about these recent incidents. It seems a pattern. One should indeed be open to the possibility of a racially motivated attack, yet others point out that it seems a hoax when such fires are too quickly attributed to racism. Yet to be fair to both sides, the average person tends to be ignorant of the broader context of arson committed against faith communities. They don’t necessarily have access to the wealth of research, experience and training available to properly interpret such events.

Certainly, things aren’t always what they first seem. Already, three of the ten religious building fires have been (at least initially) attributed to other causes such as a lightning strike. Many don’t realize that church fires are all too common, and that many of these fires prove to be arson events. The National Fire Protection Association has reported from their research:

From 2007 to 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 1,780 structure fires in religious and funeral properties each year.  NFPA estimates that these fires resulted in an annual average of two civilian fatalities, 19 civilian injuries, and $111 million in direct property damage. The largest share of fires involved religious properties, with just four percent taking place in funeral parlors. Since 1980, the average number of reported fires in religious and funeral properties has fallen by 54%, from 3,500 per year to 1,660 in 2011.[i]

The Southern Poverty Law Center and others are not totally off base to suspect a more sinister, violent pattern perhaps lies underneath these recent fires. Arson happens, and even one faith community burned down for hate is too much. Still, we need to be accurate in our discussions. We shouldn’t base our reactions on often misleading, summary headlines. Exaggerations tend to distract people from the very real dangers of such arson and fires in general. They tend to cause greater fear (if not panic), suspicion and division. People act on perceptions and emotion rather than any factual basis. Even an honest mistake can appear a lie or manipulation of fact; unintentionally hurting efforts to combat racism and violence in our communities by fermenting fear or suspicion. Yet, lackadaisical attitudes can also help facilitate such crimes and cover-up very real racist threats in our communities.

Past media outcry over what appeared to be a rash of attacks against minority churches caused the formation of the National Church Arson Task Force in 1996. (It has since been disbanded.) The Church Arson Prevention Act passed that same year. This made arson against faith communities a Federal offense and doubled the potential sentence from ten years to twenty years.

Since then, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have been tasked to oversee church fire investigations. Things have improved dramatically, but we still face great risk. Citing NFPA, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that incidents of arson of religious buildings dramatically dropped from 1,320 in 1980 to 240 in 2002. However from 2007-2011, they report 1,600 cases of arson targeting houses of worship causing $105 million in property damage.[ii] This means that over that five year period an average 320 houses of worship per year were victims of arson. Studies vary, but one may expect an estimated three to five cases of church arson per week nationally.

Many express dismay that what appears an obvious hate crime to them isn’t regarded as such by law enforcement authorities. Report details can vary depending on methodology and data source(s). Statistics can be hard to come by for those outside law enforcement or the insurance industry. It also appears that since the National Church Arson Task Force disbanded, statistics for “church arson” are included within the larger published hate crime statistics. This clouds the already complicated issue of hate crimes.

By their nature, hate crimes remain difficult to classify or quantify. A criminal offense needs to be confirmed as motivated by hate. If there are no connections established by previous threats, evidence on scene, or suspect admission, it may not be listed as a hate crime. As explained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.[iii]

For 2013, the FBI recorded 6,933 confirmed hate crimes. It is probable that more occur. Arsons have a low closure and arrest rate compared to other crimes, because of their destructive nature. Evidence indicating the suspect’s intent might not be available. If motive cannot be determined, the event is not captured as a hate crime. When victims, agencies, or organizations don’t participate in the reporting process, incidents obviously cannot be included. Just as the debate about officer involved shootings (OIS) has revealed, criminal justice reporting needs to improve. Yet of the data captured, approximately thirty-five percent of hate crimes were crimes against property totaling 2,424 incidents. Only thirty-six of these confirmed hate related incidents were determined to be arson.

Still, one can discern that accidental fires and arson occur relatively and regrettably often at houses of worship. Religious buildings too often have flammables poorly stored, faulty electrical work, and other property risks. About a third of religious structure fires are from cooking related accidents. Yet, faith communities tend to be high profile organizations in their neighborhoods, and their buildings are occupied often on a fixed schedule. They might serve at-risk community members. This makes them attractive targets for burglars, vandals and arsonists.  Motives for arson go beyond hate and may include: concealing another crime, fireplay, influence of media/copy cats, monetary gain, mental illness, pyromania, and (the most common) vandalism. III reports, “In 2013, 27.9 percent of the people arrested for arson were under the age of 18.” One should not automatically assume that every church fire is arson or a hate crime. The research doesn’t support it.

Racially based arson does occur. One case is too many, but all houses of worship face risk. Media reports indicate that the Quba Islamic Institute (Houston, TX) experienced a confirmed arson in February 2015 when one of its unoccupied buildings was torched. A predominately white ELCA congregation, First Evangelical (Lorain, OH), was a victim of arson following a break-in.

Without suspect admission, known threats, or other firm evidence, one can’t necessarily prove hate as a cause, but arson for any reason remains appalling. Trying to speak and write accurately about the issue won’t minimize the horror to any black or other faith communities being targeted. However, we might reduce their occurrence further by working together. It might just help us get to the bottom of things quicker by limiting gossip and misinformation. Undoubtedly, it will help defeat a primary goal of such terrorist acts – fear and discord in the community. Unity of vision and purpose in the local community best fights such fires.

What your faith community can do:

  • Cut back bushes and growth near your buildings. This helps slow the spread of fire, but it also increases visibility for law enforcement and any passersby.
  • Keep up general maintenance, landscaping and cleaning on the property. Disheveled surroundings and unsecured premises tend to encourage unwanted activity.
  • Remove possible sources for ignition and accelerants.
  • Correct problematic landscape designs or features facilitating furtive activity.
  • Post no trespassing signs in problem areas.[iv]
  • Lighting, fencing and other physical security measures are proven deterrents.
  • Secure and lock as many interior parts of the building as you can to inhibit access of unwelcome guests and spread of any fire.
  • Don’t hide keys in fake rocks, etc. People know to look for these. Know who has keys and is allowed access. Key control is important.
  • Consider electronic surveillance and alarms, preferably connected to an outside monitoring service.
  • Speak of security awareness to your congregation. Ask nearby members to keep a watch on the building. Don’t be afraid to report anything suspicious.
  • Report domestic threats against employees or members, vandalism, other “petty crimes,” and any signs of suspicious activities or footprints around remote parts of the building.
  • Take advantage of free security surveys often offered by local fire departments, law enforcement, insurance carriers, lock smiths and security companies.
  • Participate in available community crime prevention programs such as a Business Watch or Worship Watch program.
  • The recommended insurance carrier for the ELCA, Church Mutual, has educational products available for clients. Check with your own insurance carrier to learn more.


[i] Campbell, R. (June 2013) US Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

[ii] Insurance Information Institute (February 2015). Arson. New York, NY.

[iii] Federal Bureau of Investigation (UD). Hate Crime – Overview. Washington, DC.

[iv] Virginia has a code (18.2-125) prohibiting trespassing on graveyard and church property at night, but not every law enforcement officer is familiar with it or prone to enforce it without permission of the property owners. Signs fit into the general trespassing code (18.2-119). It might be prudent to ban repeat offenders. Consult local law enforcement.



Bonetti, E. (7 Apr 2014). Church Arson: Facts and prevention. Posted on As found at on July 1, 2014

Campbell, R. (June 2013). US Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association. [Electronic Version] As downloaded from on July 1, 2014.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (UD). Hate Crime – Overview. Washington, DC. As found at on July 1, 2015.

Ingraham, C. (1 Jul 2015). The surprising frequency of church arson. Washington, DC: Washington Post. As found at on July 2, 2014.

Insurance Information Institute (February 2015). Arson. New York, NY. As found at on July 1, 2015.

U.S. Fire Administration (2010). Community Arson Prevention: National Arson Awareness Media Kit. Washington, DC: Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). [Electronic Version] As downloaded from on July 3, 2015.

U.S. Fire Administration (n.d.). Statistical reports on the U.S. fire problem. Emmitsburg, MD: Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). As found at on July 1, 2015.

Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS) as found at

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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