Life of a Pastor: That’s surely not a pipe bomb?
“Could you come and look at something near my car,” asked the preschool teacher at my office door?
I followed her out to the church parking lot to see what was up.
“This is going to sound like I’m crazy, but I want to make sure that the thing near my tire is not a pipe bomb,” she explained.
Now, thinking back to my munitions class at seminary…NOT A WHAT?! PIPE BOMB?!
I did what any rational pastor would do: mentally ran a risk assessment.
- Target assessment: Preschool teachers do not rank on the likely-to-be-assassinated chart. They are more likely to have a pair of underoos explode near them when a child doesn’t make it to the potty.
- Clientele assessment: It could be that she had someone with a grudge against her, but the parents of preschoolers are not likely to have the motivation to build and place a pipe bomb as an outcome of a grudge.
- Object assessment: It was a short length of pipe. It had no odd residues or powdery substances on it and no odor; no wires, drill holes or etchings from being worked. It looked randomly dropped and was very visibly situated.
- Location assessment: Our church and the adjacent residential community has handymen coming and going all the time; it would not be unusual to find here something which had fallen off a truck.
So, I kicked it. It did not explode. Someone had fashioned a length of pipe with end caps as a pencil holder.
One would think that matters of public safety are few and far between in ministry, but they happen with surprising regularity. My mental risk assessment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but as a pastor one has to be prepared to respond to issues in the moment, with a clear head and non-anxious presence. It sounds absurd to say that one should practice one’s responses to absurd, unplanned-for emergencies before they happen, but it is helpful. What WOULD you do if, say, a deer burst through the plate glass front door of the church building and ran amok in the halls? It happens!
In my time in the program department at Amigo Centre, a Mennonite camp and retreat center in Sturgis, MI, I had the opportunity to inform worship consultant, speaker and writer Sally Morgenthaler that her presentation might be interrupted by a gunshot.
Fifteen minutes into her seminar, the maintenance director peeked in from the side door and beckoned me. There was a raccoon ambling around near the retreat area acting strangely. It was a rare Saturday in that the maintenance director, the cook and I were the only year-round staff present; we had to make a decision about the raccoon. A call to the Department of Natural Resources filled us in on a distemper epidemic that had been running through adjacent counties in Indiana; risk of aggression and biting came with the increasingly disoriented animal.
After informing Sally, I announced to the gathering of pastors, seminary students and lay leaders, “I’m sorry for the interruption. We appear to have a diseased raccoon wandering around outside the building. The DNR said it likely has distemper, which is not contagious to humans, but can cause an animal to become aggressive. You are going to hear a gunshot; we will be killing the animal and disposing of it. Again, our apologies. Back to you, Sally, with more on worship planning.”