Local pastors evaluating security after Texas church shooting

Published 3:00 am Friday, November 10, 2017

Days after a deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, local pastors are reviewing their churches’ own security practices and procedures.

“We did have a plan in place before the attack, but we’re revisiting and revamping that plan now – tweaking it a little bit,” said Dwayne Norman,” pastor of Bush Memorial Baptist Church. “Obviously it’s a hot topic with the events in Texas.”

Many other churches in Pike County are doing the same.

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The shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on November 5 was far from the first church shooting in the United States. Also on Sunday, a man gunned down his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in the parking lot of St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno, California. On September 24, a gunman killed one and injured several others at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee.

More than 91 people have been killed in at least 22 church-related shootings since 1999, with at least 8 shooters then killing themselves also.

With three deadly shootings in 2017, this has been the deadliest year for killings at U.S. churches. But it has been a recurring problem, from seven dead at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Texas in 1999 to nine killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Luke Lane, pastor of First Baptist Church in Troy, said FBC has had a security force in place since before he arrived nine years ago, but the recent tragedy has church leaders expanding that presence.

“We’ve already had a safety team and security team in place anyways outside on Sunday mornings making sure everything is OK,” Lane said. “Now we’re probably going to be out there doing that on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.”

Rick Hayes, pastor at Hephzibah Baptist Church, said his main focus is on increasing the visibility of security outside the church.

“We’re very mindful of security concerns and have already done some things to mitigate risks,” Hayes said. “What we look like we’re moving to is more of an outside security force to catch things in the parking lot and most importantly to be a prominent visible deterrent. We want to be a hard target.”

Troy Police Chief Randall Barr said showing that presence is one of the few things that may be able to prevent an incident like recent tragedies from occurring.

“I think we would all like that’s not going to happen here in our community, but in reality, that can happen anywhere at any time,” Barr said. “The knowledge of when or where these things may happen is hard to know in advance.

‘How do you prevent something from happening if you don’t know it’s going to happen other than by your visibility or your presence? That’s a lot of what we do everyday with police cars riding around; visibility sometimes is a deterrent.”

Barr said with circumstances around these events varying so wildly, it’s impossible to be able to know whether a particular shooter will be deterred.

Some church leaders are working with law enforcement to get ideas about how to better secure their congregations.

“We tried to get advice and wisdom from others,” Norman said. “We had already scheduled before his happened to have a meeting with the police and fire chiefs this morning to pick their brains.”

Barr said one of the other main methods churches should use to protect their facilities is by ensuring all members and visitors use a single entry point.

“Some advice we’ve offered in the past is to make sure you’ve got entry and exit points in the church or buildings secured so that somebody couldn’t walk through a side or backdoor unannounced,” Barr said. “Have everyone go into a main entry point; most people do that for church service anyway.”

Barr said members should also know where exits are in case of an emergency and be alert to their surroundings whether in church or anywhere else they may be.

Norman said there’s a challenge to securing the church because it isn’t meant to lock strangers and visitors out, but to invite them in.

“We want to be open to our community and seek to minister and love on the community – and even our enemies,” Norman said. “There’s a verse in the Bible, Matthew 10:16 that says ‘I (God) am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ That’s what we’re trying to do: be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”