A situation at church inadvertently escalated by churchgoer who meant well on Sunday evening, Dec 10th. During a healing and prayer service at my church a woman began to create a disturbance. Our ushers and security volunteers handled it very well, but there was a moment when it was on the verge of going completely off the rails due to the well-intentioned but misguided actions of a churchgoer.
After interviewing the church staff and volunteer personnel who were involved that evening, here are some teaching points and highlights:

* A female church security volunteer became aware of a woman walking directly towards her at the back of the room during service. The woman expressed her agitation and frustration that “people” were “staring” at her, she was convinced that she was being judged and laughed at by “everyone” in the service. After talking to the woman for a few moments and letting her vent, the security volunteer was able to get the woman to calm down and return to her seat. The security volunteer noted that it was a possible mental illness situation as there was nothing about the woman in her appearance or behavior up to that point that would have caused anyone to “stare” and “judge” her.

* Later in the service, the woman became vocal and upset about a missing personal item. Several other people came to the woman to try to help and comfort her, but she became more agitated and loudly told people to back away from her and leave her alone. Church volunteers who have gone through my training seminar quickly got people to move away and give the woman her space. One witness even told me that it was obvious that the more people gave the woman her space and left her alone, the calmer she got.

* After a few moments of relative peace, a churchgoer decided to ignore requests to give the woman time and space, approached within arms reach of the woman and began to loudly rebuke the woman and cast out the demon inside. This was absolutely not well received by the woman, who was already stressed but calm, and she began to get loud and upset all over again.

* The woman became very agitated and loud, felt that she was being called a “devil”, and soon began to leave with the person she had come to the service with. The churchgoer felt the need to follow behind, loudly calling out to the woman and continuing to loudly rebuke and cast out any demons that may be in the agitated woman.

* Church security and ushers were able to get the churchgoer to stop following and calling out to the departing woman, who left with her partner without any further drama.

Great job by our security volunteer in recognizing a mental illness issue and not a case of someone deliberately and intentionally trying to disrupt a religious service, which is a crime in Michigan and would have prompted a call to get law enforcement rolling. The decision not to call the police in this case was the correct one.

Great job by security and usher volunteers in recognizing that the small crowd of well-intentioned churchgoers who gathered around and trying to comfort and pray with the woman was actually stressing the woman out more, and the woman was angrily and loudly telling everyone to leave her alone. Our security volunteer quickly went over and got people to give the woman space, and noted that the more people left her alone the more the woman calmed down. The woman especially became defensive and angry if a male approached her, which gave our volunteers the clue that she may be dealing with serious trauma.

Things began to quickly ramp up and unravel when a churchgoer decided she was going to 1) Get into the woman’s space by approaching to within arm’s reach, which can feel very threatening to a person with mental illness who is in crisis, 2) Loudly pray over the woman and rebuke and cast out any demons, but loud noises and voices are scientifically proven to raise the stress level in persons with mental illness who are in crisis, 3) Did not take a moment to observe and determine if she was having a positive effect or not, and 4) Ignored signs and evidence that she was actually making the situation worse in that moment.

Folks, you can pray for someone from across the room! You do not have to be laying hands on them and you certainly do not have to be in their personal space! I know prayer works, and I encourage everyone to pray, but you MUST continuously take a moment to assess a situation as it evolves and determine if YOU are helping or making things worse! This situation at church was inadvertently escalated by churchgoer meaning well!

Fantastic job by our short-staffed security and usher volunteers doing the best they could with what they had at the time. Other security volunteers remained at their posts but were alert and ready to respond. A team approach to any incident is preferable when possible.

In the end, everyone went home safe and nothing of value was damaged. That is a successful de-escalation of a situation that could have gone very differently if the person with mental illness and in crisis had reached a desperate, trapped, and panic level but fortunately, she had a way out and could leave, and she did so peacefully.

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