I knew at 11:30 this morning that I would not get anything done today. This is the earliest I have ever made such a designation. Usually it dawns on me at about 4:00 in the afternoon that my day has been completely unproductive. After more than twenty years in ministry, I know when I need to give myself a “fallow day,” put my responsibility addiction on hold, lower my expectations, and muddle through.
My day started at 3:45 am. The Voice from the church’s insecurity system phoned me about an intruder at church. The police had been called. “How soon can you get there, and what will you be driving?”
“Ten minutes. A red Prius.”
We’ve had the insecurity system for twelve years. For some reason our insurance company required that we get it when we installed the elevator. So far it has never alerted us to a fire or burglary. It has alerted us to malfunctioning smoke detectors and staff members who have left the building after the system has armed itself for the night. Once I was phoned at 1 am because a smoke detector was sending an error message. I thanked the Voice for waking me and went back to sleep. The Voice phoned again. “The Oshkosh Fire Department has been called because the northeast stairwell fire detector has gone off.”
“What am I missing?” I asked. I assumed the sensor was broken, but if it was not, and there really was a fire, I figured I could drive past the smoldering ruins at first light.
“They asked that you be there.”
At this point I’m wondering, “Do they need me to say, ‘I’m Pastor Willadsen and I approve your fighting this fire’?”
I pulled on my sweatpants and met the fire fighters, and we confirmed that the smoke detector was on the fritz. I returned home. Monday we called the smoke detector people. I asked, “Could you make these things malfunction at 10 am on a weekday?”
“You pay extra for that.”
Last Wednesday, our choir director stayed late after rehearsal to file some music. She left the building after the system armed, and the Voice called to inform me, “There has been a breach at the East Door.” This did not sound serious, but it did sound rather personal. I walked through the building, and turned off four lights that different groups had left on. I went to the East Door and found two of Oshkosh’s finest there. Luckily, they did not open fire when I walked out. And they took me at my word when I said unto them, “I’m the pastor.” I was home in fifteen minutes and rested comfortably the rest of the evening.
The police department used to tug on the church doors to see whether they were locked as part of their regular duties. Once one of them pulled a little too hard and made the system think the door had been opened. The Voice called me about a possible intruder. I met the officer. His build reflected his occupation’s legendary fondness for donuts. He insisted that I walk through the building with him looking for the intruder. We walked through the basement. We walked through the main floor. We walked through the second floor. When we were nearly done, I said, “You know where I’d hide if I were an intruder? The bell tower! Let’s go up there!” The bell tower is at the top of a steep twenty-step spiral staircase. “No one up here? Go figure! Thanks for checking this out with me!” Officer Cruller was winded and wet with sweat after ascending the staircase. He never tugged on the doors again.
This morning was different. There were three police cars on the street when I arrived. The glass back door of the church had been shattered. The door was ajar; it could not close because of all the broken glass in the jamb. While they were deciding whether to enter the building to look for an intruder, another officer radioed that he had found some bloody sweatpants on the front yard of the church. I walked down one side of the building and found an officer on the corner holding a rifle. I retreated to another corner of the property when the officer suggested I wait in my car. My church was a crime scene around which they formed a perimeter. I watched from the car as the torches of four officers flashed throughout the building.
About that time, I spotted a young woman sitting on the curb across the street. At first she was screaming; then she turned docile. A few minutes later, an officer downgraded her condition to “remorseful.” I do not know whether they took her to the hospital or the pokey. One of the perimeter officers informed me that I could enter the building. I reset the insecurity system. I went to my office and got the cellphone number of our property guy. I swept enough glass off the jamb so the door could latch. I returned home at about 5 am, but didn’t exactly sleep.
At 7 am I called the property guy. Then I called the secretary, the preschool teacher, and the custodian. By 8 am a new door had been ordered, and the glass had been cleaned up. By 3 in the afternoon we had a new door. Insurance will cover it, and the church will probably even get its deductible back as restitution, the police suggested.
At 8:30 pm I was sitting in a restaurant twenty miles from home, meeting a colleague for breakfast as I do each month. I drank too much coffee. We talked about all the things that seminary never prepared us for. Things like insecurity systems, SWAT teams, random acts of vandalism, and the reality that some days you are simply not going to get anything done, besides musing on the plight of not getting anything done. I ate supper with our after-school group. I talked to one of the classes about communion. I headed home at the usual time for a Wednesday, more than fifteen hours after my day began.
And so to bed.
The Rev. Thomas C. Willadsen is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.