Apart from random reckless hunter’s shots and target practice on my car traveling through inner city neighborhoods at night, and the occasional shots through the parsonage windows that occurred at Tilton, Minonk, and Burlington, one bullet hole apiece, the only serious threats occurred as I tried to moderate domestic disputes.
At Tilton I learned that domestic disputes provide the most common setting where guns come out.
I was making a regular pastoral visit to an aged grandmother, whose several children lived within a few blocks of her house. She informed me that her daughter was going through a terrible ordeal and needed my help. The daughter had no phone, but she was home. Could I go and talk to her? I could and did. Talking to daughter and grand-daughter together, they explained the abuse they had endured and the sense of despair and hopelessness they felt. Where could they go? In the midst of that conversation, the husband came home early and drunk, and before I had a chance to say anything more than hello, he held a gun on all of us. Forty years later, I do not remember much of what I said, only the feeling that these could be my last moments, and the resolve to be calm and non-threatening, as I explained that I was a pastor, there to help all of them and not to take sides. His gun could only make things worse for him and for those he loved. Gradually he lowered his gun and began to cry. How it happened, I never did know, but over the next several months that family survived intact, that husband stopped drinking, and eventually they became active in the church.
In another situation a father held his gun on me when I came with his daughter to his house to take her children away from him. They had lived together for several years, but the daughter had resolved that her children’s well-being and her own required that they live on their own. Only with repeated assurances that he could still see the children regularly, and no threats about legal actions or custody, did he give up his threat to use his weapon and kill everyone.
When I later agreed to serve as a volunteer chaplain for the city police department, the first instruction dealt with the dangers of domestic conflicts. The police trainer noted that officers wanted to have chaplains with them in family disputes to shift the focus from law enforcement to peaceful resolution. They felt more secure when the chaplains could join them, but they warned us that these situations remained volatile and unpredictable. They didn’t have to tell me. In the months that followed, twice more I wondered if I would make it out alive. Years later, in another town, when I received another request to serve as a police chaplain, I decided that I was dealing with enough stress without adding that to the list.