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Homeless ministries: staying the course, safely

Homeless ministries: staying the course, safely

On Friday, Douglas Jones, a homeless man who became angry after being told that he needed to reduce his visits to the food pantry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Md., shot and killed the Rev. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, the parish’s co-rector and Brenda Brewington, its administrator. Jones then killed himself.

The Diocese of Maryland has responded with amazing generosity. Meeting in convention, it passed legislation that resolved in part to “recognize and address the needs of homeless persons in our communities, as well as the needs of our brothers and sisters who suffer from mental illness.” Two parishes have volunteered to host Jones’ funeral.

But the diocesan resolution also “encourage[d] all parishes to make appropriate provisions for the safety of their clergy, administrators, and other staff members.”

We would like to hear from those of you who have wisdom to share about keeping church members who work with people struggling with mental illnesses safe from harm. Please join the conversation in the comments.

Additional coverage of the aftermath of the shootings can be found here and here.


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Hi Sheila. Sure–you or anyone who wishes to do so is welcome to use this information.


Eric Bonetti

Sheila Johnson


I found your comments of May 7, 2012 1:28 PM to be excellent. May I have your permission to reprint them in our upcoming church newsletter?

Thank you,

Sheila Johnson

Parish Administrator

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Mt. Washington

Baltimore, MD


The 2009 article in Lawofficer magazine about church security raised a good point, which is that synagogues have long maintained a much higher security posture than most churches. And I am mindful that, when I was a kid, many churches stayed open around the clock–somthing unthinkable today.


Eric Bonetti


I count as priceless the extensive training I’ve received in violence de-escalation, using my voice to prevent or end an assault, and in disarming an armed assailant.

I’ve taught it to many a survivor of crime and/or abuse, and would love to be able to teach clergy, lay leaders, and others who work with potentially volatile populations.

I wish every diocese offered training in this at least once a year. I also wish that all social workers — especially those who do home visits — had such training. Maybe I should start offering workshops.

Sara Miles

Making our churches into places that are free from violence and safe for everyone is incredibly important. But feeling safe and being safe aren’t necessarily the same thing.

I worry that if we make decisions about security based on whether or not someone’s “obnoxious,” or homeless, we’re not going to look clearly enough at what the actual threats might be, or take the right steps to prevent violence.

I just found this analysis

of deadly violence in places of worship over the last few years: it’s done by someone who works in church security, and I have no idea how complete or accurate it is. But he reports that the three main triggers of deadly violence in places of worship are domestic violence, personal arguments and robbery. The statistics show no more deadly violence triggered by mental illness than by religious bias — and nearly 25% of the killings were done by a current or former member or employee of the place of worship.

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