Handcuffs in Church

Today, I got to watch to police officers wrestle a belligerent, drunken Pole to the ground, trade obscenities with him, handcuff the man (against his will and determined effort to the contrary), and drag him out to the street where the officers eventually loaded him into their squad car… And all of this happened in the church that I pastor… During the middle of our weekly worship gathering… With a hundred spectators gasping through the whole procedure.

It was, to say the least, a memorable afternoon.

Perhaps I should have expected trouble was brewing when I shook hands with the scruffy foursome of Eastern Europeans.  They seemed extra-enthusiastic, pumping my hands as I introduced myself — telling me spirited trivialities about their native Poland, Latvia, and Russia.  But then again, we’re in Amsterdam.  Our church has always been home to people from a wide variety of cultural, socio-economic, and spiritual backgrounds.  And so I really thought nothing of their antics… until they started dancing, as if in a street rave, during the opening set of worship music.  Periodically, they would shout out something unintelligible (but distracting nonetheless).  At one point, I made my way over to their section of the room and addressed them by name, asking them politely to keep it a bit quieter.  Unfortunately, they did not keep it a bit quieter.

After the music ended and Todd started teaching, of course, our guests’ raucous behavior became even more disruptive.  Again I asked them to quiet down and listen respectfully.  Again they ignored me.  At one point, one of the men started hacking loudly and seemed to start weeping.  Eventually, he vomited a bit of red pulp onto the floor.  It looked like blood.  One of the guys from our church who was sitting at their table helped him get up and exit the room, going outside to get some fresh air.  I helped to clean up the mess from the floor and then sat down at the table to be a bit more available in case the situation escalated.

This whole time — though he had stopped briefly during the vomiting incident — Todd (bless his heart) continued to try and press onward with his teaching.

A short time later, Marco (one of the other guys from our church who had been helping throughout the whole situation) motioned for me to join him in the kitchen for a brief word.  It turned out that he had witnessed one of our guests (the loudest, most belligerent one) pouring generously from a concealed bottle into the coffee cups of his companions.  Duh… of course.  They were incredibly drunk (the red substance was, in fact, not blood from an ulcerating stomach but bile tainted by a cheap bottle of port wine).  At that point, our noisiest guest turned up the volume of his commentary yet again, and so Marco and I decided together that we needed to go and ask the offending party to leave.  Again, the sermon was temporarily paused while the situation was loudly discussed in the middle of the room.

We told him that he’d had too much to drink and needed to leave.

He said he didn’t want to leave; he wanted to stay and listen to the fabulous things that Todd had to say.

I reinforced our request for him to leave immediately.

He said "F*** you, I’m staying."

I said that if he would not leave voluntarily, then I would have to call the police and ask them to assist us.

He said "F*** you, I’m staying."

I called the police.

It was funny, when I first walked into the kitchen and pulled out my phone to dial the police, the adrenaline coursing through my veins confused me, and I momentarily forgot the emergency number for the Netherlands.  I dialed 1-2-3-3, only to hear the greeting to my voicemail on the other end of the line!  Then, after another flustered moment, I remembered and dialed 1-1-2 (someone later told me that if I would have dialed the American 9-1-1, the call would have also forwarded to 1-1-2).  While calling the police, Marco came and told me that the belligerent man had said that he had a knife, that he was not going anywhere, that anyone who thought otherwise could f*** off.  So I told the police very simply that there was a man with a knife in the middle of our church service who was defiantly refusing our requests for him to leave the building.  After giving my name, number, and address, the dispatcher said that someone would be along right away.

It felt like it took an eternity for the police to arrive (in reality, it was probably 10 or 15 minutes).  I waited by the front door.  I paced back to the main room.  A couple of the more street-smart members of our church had stationed themselves in the immediate vicinity of the drunken knife-wielder, and he had quieted down a little bit — with only a very sporadic slur interrupting Todd’s sermon (which he kept on preaching!) every now and then — so I paced back to the street again and simply waited, my heart in my throat, for the police to arrive.  Eventually, the sirens could be heard and the blue lights of a police cruiser could be seen speeding up the Herengracht.  I flagged the police down, and quickly escorted them into the facilities, briefing them as best I could on the way to the scene.  The officers walked into the room, and I pointed out the problem guest.  He was hunched over his bag (where, allegedly, his knife was hidden) and tensing his muscles for a fight.  The worship gathering, as you might suspect, stopped completely.

One of the police officers addressed him, and asked him if he would come out with them.

He said he would not.

They asked if everyone else in the room would clear out to the sides of the room, giving them a wide berth to confront the man.  And then, when the area was cleared out, the police moved in and wrested an arm behind his back.  The man resisted, and was then knocked to the floor.  There was a brief scuffle, as the police officers forcefully hand-cuffed the man and subdued him.

The officer asked him to put his feet under him, as they were going to pick him up and escort him from the premises.

He said "F*** you."

The officer said, "F*** you, too," and then they forcefully pulled him to his feet and out of the room.

In the hallway, one of the police officers held the angry drunken man against a wall, while the other one asked the other disruptive guests (who had been more passive throughout the whole endeavor) to come out with him.  The man in handcuffs vomited against the wall (another lovely red jobber) and continued to curse the police.  At that point, an armored motorcycle cop showed up and helped to drag the man all the way out to the street and into the patrol vehicle.  Eventually, the scene was cleared entirely, and Todd finished his message (hurray for Todd!) while a few of us mopped up (both figuratively and literally!) outside with the police.

Like I say, it was quite the memorable afternoon.

The whole experience was, of course, a little bit scary.  But it was also neat to see the way that the church responded in such a situation.  It was neat to see Fons and Alex play the role of security guards (I’m quite sure we could have also sicced them on the guy, as if they were attack dogs, if it had become absolutely necessary).  It was neat to see Marco and Daniel help to keep an overview of the situation.  It was neat to see how Todd stayed the course and kept the rest of the church from obsessing over the situation.  And when I came back in from the initial conversation with the police out in the hallway, it was neat to see our whole church praying for the guys who had been escorted from the room.  All in all, we responded well.  And in a city like Amsterdam (though situations like this don’t happen nearly as often as one might think), it’s good to know that we can respond well in such circumstances.  It may not have been the most worshipful experience for everyone — but then again, maybe it was…

Sometimes, we have to teach each other.  Sometimes, we have to counsel each other.  And sometimes, we have to get each others’ backs when belligerent, drunken Eastern Europeans get rowdy on us.

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