Church hires `holy bouncers' to keep peace

Security guards drafted in to stop all hell breaking loose
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The Independent Online
BY WILL BENNETT

Even for an intensely evangelical congregation such as Holy Trinity, Brompton, there were a few would-be churchgoers who were much too fond of the wrong kind of spirit.

For among the predominantly well-heeled people who gathered at the west London church each week to speak in tongues, shake uncontrollably and raise their hands in praise were some poorer souls who were already doing this before the services started.

As a result, HTB, as the church is usually known, has had to hire professional security guards to help vet its enormous congregations in order to keep out alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill people who were threatening to disrupt services.

Now as worshippers queue for seats at Britain's best known evangelical Anglican church in Knightsbridge, two muscular men, clad smartly but discreetly in blazers and ties, are on hand to provide back-up for four parish workers if they get into difficulties at the entrance.

Ironically, most of those who were causing problems had come into contact with HTB because the church had been helping them through the Earl's Court Project, a scheme to help alcoholics, drug addicts and the homeless, which it runs in conjunction with a charity.

Mark Elsdon-Dew, the church's communications director, said: "We have decided to have security guards to help the staff on Sundays. The reason is simply that we have congregations at our services of something like 2,000 people.

"Inevitably with that number of people, there were a few who wanted to cause disruption rather than take part in the worship. Many churches have to deal with this, but we found that we were dealing with it on a weekly basis.

"On the whole, the people are known to us through the Earl's Court Project. When they are not drunk they are more than welcome. It is just on the occasions when they are drunk or on drugs that they can cause disturbance.

"We love them and we care for them during the week and we know a lot about their problems.

"It's not a question of throwing out people we don't want, but we don't want to have people there who are not coming to worship God."

HTB has proved very popular with worshippers. Queues form an hour before services start and, last September, the church had to start issuing tickets.

The vicar, the Rev Sandy Millar, has popularised the Toronto Blessing, in which evangelical congregations are swept by waves of laughter, weeping and animal noises.

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