MCMINNVILLE — It was Jan. 11. The day for Father Mike Walker, pastor at St. James Parish in McMinnville, started in the usual way with Mass, visits, phone calls and a staff meeting. After the staff meeting a man entered the pastor’s office and wouldn’t leave. After repeatedly asking him to leave, Father Walker called 911 and asked Mike Douglass, the parish’s youth minister, for assistance until police arrived.
The man became increasingly agitated and threatening to both Father Walker and Douglass regardless of their efforts to distract him and deescalate the situation.
The two men soon found themselves at knifepoint as the aggressor verbally threatened them. After the police officer arrived, he took control of the situation and arrested the man in a prudent and professional way. In the end, no one was hurt and the incident ended as well as could have been hoped.
“We have a bit of a dilemma as a church,” says Father Walker. “On one hand, we want to be open and inviting so that all people can hear and receive the Gospel. On the other hand, we need to do what is prudent to protect students, staff and parishioners.
“The sad fact is that we have had increased incidents, especially from the mentally ill and drug addicted, that have posed a threat to others and disrupted our worship. How do we implement a reasonable security plan and discern how we can more genuinely assist the mentally ill and addicted?”
Prior to the January incident, parish staff had been taking steps to address some security issues such as installing cameras, implementing policies and being more diligent with safety issues. Now, the parish is moving forward with the help of some experienced parishioners and law enforcement. Staff have already begun the process of reassessing signage and fences, forming a team of trained parishioners after the model of the watchful “Parish Keepers” program begun at St. Edward Parish in Keizer, adding an intercom entry system, adjusting door entries and especially making sure the school is safe and secure.
“We are fortunate that we have some experienced professionals to help us move forward in a reasonable way and parishioners who want to help,” says Father Walker.
The archdiocese also has safety grants to help St. James implement these plans of action.
“Although every parish is different, I would encourage all parishes to consider their safety plan as well,” says Father Walker.