What to do? From where I was standing, I knew that there was a smoke detector right in front of the exit and that the candle and incense tripped the alarm, but the 300 people in the congregation did not have the same awareness. I chose to allow the hymn to be completed and then to evacuate the building. Upon reflection, I made a mistake.
We teach our children that when a fire alarm goes off, they are to listen, look, and move. The most important thing for them to do is to evacuate the building and to go where they have been taught because they do not know whether the alarm is false or true. We teach them to always act as if the alarm is true.
Instead of re-enforcing what we teach, I failed to honor that in the moment. So did many of the other adults who laughed at what they perceived to be another squirrely fire moment at our parish. We left our children and our guests confused.
St. Stephen’s staff and I have had an opportunity to discuss this event. We are re-examining our exit plan and how to ensure that incense won't trigger the alarm. We will also be conducting a fire drill on a Sunday during the Easter season so that we will all be prepared.
Our policy is to evacuate the building when the alarm goes off. We will follow it in the future, even on Easter Day!