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December 14, 2001

Local clergy weigh need for anti-violence plan

A knife-wielder in the sanctuary? Gunshots at the altar? Who could have imagined such a thing ... let alone be prepared for it?
But it did happen Dec. 2 when a 37-year-old man - an apparent stranger to the 70-person congregation - interrupted services at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Brattleboro, Vt.

After weeping and requesting "political sanctuary," the man was reportedly asked by church officials to sit down or leave. The man drew a knife. Police were called. Three officers responded.

Allegedly, "threatening moves" were made. Two officers fired seven shots. The man died four hours later at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

The Windham County State's Attorney and the Vermont Attorney General's Office are investigating the homicide that occurred on the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, one of the holiest times for the Christian faith, marks the start of the church year in the western world. It is a period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and is widely observed as a season of penitence for sins and prayer for salvation.

What if some kind of "potentially threatening" situation were to occur during a church event in Franklin County? Is there likely to be a formal plan in place to deal with such an emergency?

Probably not is the consensus of four area clergy who collectively have more than a century of experience in the pulpit. Those spiritual leaders include: the Rev. Jane Lawrence, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Greenfield, and president of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County; the Rev. Stanley Aksamit, who serves the Roman Catholic parishes of Sacred Heart in Greenfield and St. Anne's and St. Mary's in Turners Falls; the Rev. Lloyd Parrill of Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield, and the Rev. Gordon Newell of Colrain, pastor at the Erving Congregational Church.

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