When I was a little boy in the tiny darp of Steinbach, Manitoba, I used to have to create interesting diversions on cold, sleety November Saturdays. Too cold for football, too wet for road hockey and banished from both the house (by my mom) and the Rexall Drugs comic book rack—”This ain’t a library!”—I had to get inventive.
I had heard somewhere that all churches were sanctuaries. I think I read that in a Spiderman comic book, but it did seem to be rooted in truth. The house of God would, of course, be open to all. Unlocked. God was more concerned about turning away His children than letting enemies in.
So, to test this, I took it upon my bored, Saturday morning self to investigate empirically. As soon as “Looney Tunes” ended, I donned my tweed cloak and deerstalker and set out to affirm or dispel.
Steinbach was well-equipped for this experiment. In an easy one-hour stroll, I could check the ingress of over a dozen places of worship. I brought a spiral notebook (blue), a pencil crayon (Midnight Black) and an empty Mountain Dew bottle (darkly). Entering Economy Store to cash in my pop bottle, I met Mr. Vogt.
“Töws!” he said, using the proper Molotschnan pronunciation, his big bass booming in the empty store. “Morgenstunde, Hat Gold im Munde*… What gets you opp so early on a Saturday?” I told him about my experiment and as he handed over my two-cent refund, he asked me to inform him of the results. “When you publish your paper—” he added, to which I had no immediate reply.
As I made my rounds, my dismay grew and I lost some faith in the revelations of Aunt May and Peter Parker, from whose expositional dialogue my theological curiosity had been aroused. I had jiggled unsuccessfully on the door handles of four churches, had gained entry to three others, but had found none that were open and empty. Although my scientific process had started out with a binary open-or-closed query, I had refined it a bit. Janitors, Ladies Aid, pastors writing sermons and others inhabited the sanctuaries, kitchens and furnace rooms of the churches that were open. To me, this sullied the purity of the never-locked standard I sought to test.
Not one, not one church, I am sad to report passed the open and empty test. And this was in 1963 Steinbach, a locale where the Royal Bank, Ungers Jewellery and a few other businesses might be Sack enn pack, but for the most part – bikes, cars and front doors were as open as a crypt on Easter Monday.
* * *
Flash! forward to today, in the aftermath of yet another U.S. machine gun massacre, this one in a synagogue. Presumably, the “shooter”—(that’s what we call them although they also respond to other profile generalizations like, “Card-holding-NRA-Member” or “White Nationalist” but are seldom called “Mom” or “Professor”)—was able to just walk right on in. Early on a November Saturday morning, in a big city in 2018, NOT in a Mennonite village in 1963!
What the bump stock?
I read where a former FEMA guy, an expert on mass killing no less, suggested that churches would have to seriously consider security measures. Making churches “hard targets”. (Would Aunt May have used that phrase? Great Caesar’s Ghost! No!) Video surveillance; remote control, AI-equipped drone gunships; James Bond X-ray chambers; The Cone of Silence. Sanctuary doors made of impenetrable fictionite…
The FEMA expert did not suggest restricting guns. He suggested restricting churches.
I got out my spiral notebook (blue as a B.B. King song), my pencil crayon (black as the midnight heart of those offering up nothing more than ‘thoughts and prayers’) and prepared my two-cents worth. I wrote:
“Dear Mr. Vogt, I pray that the doors of all churches remain open. I pray the doors of businesses that sell machine guns are closed, forever. I pray that the sickness that has overrun our neighbours in the United States never affects us here in Canada.”
*Early morn—with gold adorned. Jack Thiessen, page 512, Mennonitisch-Plattdeutsches Wörterbuch