Security measures needed in our churches

Published 11:26 am Wednesday, November 8, 2017

There was a time when a church was a place of safety or refuge, but this past Sunday in a small rural Texas town, a gunman opened fire on a church congregation, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others. The dead ranged in age from 15 months to 77.
Some members of the community just could not believe that such a murderous and horrifying act could happen in such a small place as Sutherland Springs, Texas, or in one of its churches. We, in Elizabethton, perhaps think that way, too. But, it happened in Sutherland Springs, a community of less than 700 people. And now, religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before.
Sadly, similar acts of violence have occurred at other churches in the past. In both mass shootings and individual episodes of violence, people continue to die at the hands of violent intruders in houses of worship.
In June 2015, it happened at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. In September of this year, a masked gunman entered a church near Nashville, Tenn., shot to death one worshiper in the parking lot and proceeded to wound six more inside. The carnage might have been significantly worse were it not for an usher who confronted the gunman.
Congregations and other religious sites have long been targets of violence and vandalism, especially African-American churches going back at least to the civil rights movement.
Now anxieties over security are reaching a new level with national attention focused on mass shootings and terror threats, renewing debate about how far congregations should go to protect themselves given the imperative to be open to newcomers.
In the midst of such violence, church safety leaders are urging religious organizations of all sizes to take preventive measures before it is too late. Sunday’s mass shooting awakened us to the fact that it can happen here.
There are many angry and troubled people out there, and these people can hurt others. Though some people may bristle or be concerned when they hear about a safety and security ministry or safety and security team in a church, frankly security is visible everywhere we go — whether it be to a ballgame or a theme park or whatever. So, why not church?
It’s a sign of the times we live in. Danger lurks everywhere, and congregations need to take steps to prevent such violence. Among the security risks that congregations should look at are entry doors without a greeter to monitor them; unsecure children’s areas; doors that remain unlocked and unattended during worship services.
During church activities members should watch for suspicious behavior like people leaving at unexpected times, especially if they leave something behind they entered with, people wearing trench coats in hot weather, and people wandering in the parking lot.
Security should not be the main focus of any church, but providing adequate security helps create an environment for making disciples — one where people don’t fear violence and where memories of violence don’t hinder them from attending church.
Guns in church? We may be headed there, and we say that with a heavy heart.
It is a depressing, distressful and maddening thought that we are not safe from evil in a house of worship, but as the gunman who attacked the people in the Sutherland Springs church proved, security measures in our churches are needed.

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