Spreading the gospel of protection

Worshipers now use prayers, armed guards during services

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CLAY COUNTY – People of faith and houses of worship are under attack.

Shootings have become far too-common. Too many times parishioners are forced to their knees to avoid gunfire, not for prayer. A place that’s supposed to be a sanctuary against evil have been targeted for some of the most-hateful, yet senseless, acts of violence imaginable.

Several churches have added security meetings to Bible study and Sunday School classes.

“It’s very unfortunate that here in the 21st century, of all the things we could and should be worried about, now we have to worry about the safety of folks attending their places of worship,” Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels said.

Nearly 650 people have been killed at faith-based properties in the United States since 1964, security expert Carl Chinn told factsandtrends.com. That’s forced many of the Clay County’s churches to create a security plan.

“It goes against the grain of what a lot of the leaders in industry believe,” Daniels said. “They believe God provides, God will protect them. We can’t be ignorant of the devices of human beings. For every person that wants to do good, some percentage in society who’s made it their business to do what we consider bad things.”

Some churches will continue to pray for the best but be prepared for the worst.

“We have a group called the Ezekiel Ministry,” said Pastor Dr. William P. Register of the First Assembly of Fleming Island. “In the Bible, Ezekiel was the watchman on the wall.”

Like others, First Assembly has a security team. It’s led by a former soldier who attends conferences on church safety. He works with other worshipers to establish strongpoints throughout the church, without turning the sanctuary into a shooting gallery.

“He designates where everyone is supposed to be, what they’re allowed to do and walk them through was within the law,” Register said.”

And while the Chabad of Clay County knowingly doesn’t have an armed guard attending service, Rabbi Shmuly Feldman said he does consult with a private security company that specializes in church security.

“It’s a sad situation we have to live with,” he said. “We really don’t like to discuss security. We talk with a security company [CSO] and we’re in touch with local law enforcement. We live in a great community, but we still take it seriously. We’re small. We are in touch and we make sure everyone is safe and secure.”

It’s difficult to keep someone from doing something heinous, especially when they are driven by hate or mental illness. But there are ways to better protect worshipers, Chinn said, including:

• Confirm support from your church’s leadership team.

• Do a baseline readiness evaluation.

• Start with what you have, where you are.

• Keep it simple.

• Keep it legal.

• Know your insurance agent and policies.

• Network with your community.

• Train and drill.

• Develop policies and procedures.

“Church security gets its due but having armed church security is something that’s being considered in a lot of places of worship,” Daniels said. “A lot of pastors, lay people, folks in charge in these places of worship have to consider the safety and security of their parishioners. These things are either done either committee style or haphazardly or they actually formalize these efforts to connect with the services of those who make it a profession or business.”

Clay County sheriff’s deputies work at several “megachurches,” Daniels said, but usually only to help with traffic. The county doesn’t employ on-duty deputies inside a place of worship.

“We do drive-byes on places of worship on the weekends. That’s part of our routine patrol,” the sheriff said. “It’s tricky. On the surface you can say we’re in the South and there’s a lot of legal gun-toting by individuals who attend church. A nightmare would be for all those individuals to stand up in the name of protecting their fellow worshipers and discharging firearms in a place of worship.

“I believe there needs to be a real coordinated and controlled group of folks, and this is my own personal feeling because every church I’ve ever attended, I’ve had my firearm on me. I believe anyone who can legally carry their firearm should be allowed to carry their firearm, whether it be in a place of worship or anywhere else.”

Register said his church soon will ask its men to attend a special security meeting. They will share a codeword that trouble is unfolding, as well as how to react to a threating situation. He will do the same for the women in his congregation later in the month.

“We don’t want to do that in church because we don’t want to alarm people,” the pastor said. “But we have to face the realities.”

Jack Wilson, who was in charge of security at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas shot and killed a shooter who’d just killed two parishioners during service on Jan. 12. And he did it with one shot.

The First Amendment gives Americans the right to practice, or not practice, their own religion. The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms. Too often, those collide in the most-sacred of places – a house of worship.

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