As I consider years of deadly force incident study, many of those have erupted during counseling sessions – most often stressed marriage counseling. Things can go south quick when such tensions of the heart are laid on the table.
Most churches don’t have the benefit of a security presence through the work week. But in reality, pastors schedule counseling sessions through the work week. So there should be a security person ready for assistance when needed. There is nothing wrong with security being an additional duty to someone's normal job.
Is there someone on staff (typically there all day through the work-week) with the DNA of protection? I like to look first at the facilities operations staff. They know the building well and are all over it. It could be a janitor, accountant or worship leader – man or woman. I am certain there is somebody present during the week with the heart of a sheepdog.
They do not have to be armed -- you can make that decision based on their character and training (or willingness to be trained). The most important thing is that they are willing and able to engage, intervene, back-up etc and (most importantly) are trainable in the ways of effective ministry security.
While many of the following precautions are applicable during weekend events, I offer them first for consideration through the week.
Make sure all staff (especially those who counsel, and any who may occasionally terminate employees) are aware of the week-day security person.
Consider the counseling (or employment interview) rooms.
Every meeting room should be equipped with a window. If not, you need to invest in at least windows in the doors. I offer a few points to consider, then you can plan from there specific to your culture;
Electrically operated duress (panic) buttons in the counseling room connected directly to the security radio or cell phone are best, but the church may not have the budget for that.
Lacking such a panic alert system, there needs to be a standard, consistent and intentional signal in each counseling room. An example may be a decorative desk top item consistent in every such room. Faced one way, all is well. Faced another way, the counseling has just taken a concerning direction. This would be a good time for security to stay close where they can monitor deterioration. The signal item turned on its side (or missing) means call 911, come join me in the room, and alert others in the building in accordance with your established security protocols.
If there are blinds on every interior window, remove at least one of them. There is never any reason for a counselor or pastor to be in the office with anyone and be completely out of view from the hallway.
The window and the item should be aligned in such a way security can see it without the counseling subject seeing security looking at the item through the window. It is best if the security person can at the same time make eye contact with the counselor.
Security should be alerted whenever any counseling session with known potential of contention is planned. Beyond that, security should occasionally swing by all counseling offices in case an impromptu session was set up and notification wasn’t possible, or perhaps was simply forgotten.
Set up daily procedures during the work week with the counseling office(s) in mind. Train all counseling pastors (don’t forget youth pastors) on the process and DRILL. Work out all your details and DRILL.
Pastors often get into serious impromptu conversations (counseling) during mingle and transition times. Intentional thought (and drilling) needs to be given to these times as well.
Think About it:
Ø Did I mention you should DRILL on this?
Ø I’ve never had experience with Catholic style confessionals as counseling – so I can’t speak into that except to say there have been many attacks on priests as the priest and penitent left the confessional area. Those of you who have this type of arrangement need to consider the priest’s exit path from the confessional, and his ability to summon for help.
Ø You may encounter resistance. You are really stepping into the “It would never happen here” arena big-time when you disclose intentions to monitor counseling sessions. Tell your most resistant counselors I am your security consultant and I would like to know why they feel that way. Have them write me a line at email@example.com and convince me why counseling at your church is different and shielded from the possibility of danger. Who knows – maybe I will learn something truly different. If I find a church truly immune from danger I will certainly want the rest of you to know about it – so I would write a TAI article on an immune congregation so everybody could benefit.
Ø And finally, DRILL on the procedures.
Ø And finally, DRILL on the procedures.