Houses of worship are known as welcoming places, but the recent mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church is a reminder to many that they also need to protect themselves.
Two years ago -- in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston -- Charlotte-area churches reached out to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for security guidance.
"If a gunmen walks up to a door and tries to open and it’s not opening, guess what? They’re going to move on," CMPD officer Chris Kopp said to church representatives at a 2015 security workshop. "We’ve proven that time and time again with these active shooter events."
And many churches certainly have increased security in the last couple years. The shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church has spurred more discussions about implementing and improving security measures.
Benjamin Boswell, the senior minister of Myers Park Baptist Church, says he heard a lot of concerns from members on Monday.
"People of faith are really going to have to wrestle with the fear that you face in just coming to church now. It’s on the minds of my members. I’ve had emails asking us, is our security team ready, are we prepared, are we going to do additional training?"
Boswell says the church will likely ask CMPD to do an active shooter training with its security team. But that team will not be armed. He says any response to improve security should include working against gun violence.
Lorenzo Small Senior expects security concerns will be the top of the agenda at this morning’s staff meeting. He’s the pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in uptown Charlotte. He knows his congregation will have mixed ideas about how to respond.
"Listen, we’re not going to worship in fear. We’re not going to gather in fear. We’re not going to respond to these situations like the world would respond," he says. "But on the other hand, (some people believe) we have a responsibility to protect our parishioners, to ensure we can gather in our places of worship without the fear of someone wreaking havoc. So bearing arms and having individuals trained to do that on behalf of our safety is a good thing, a faithful thing to do."
If it was up to him, Small says he wouldn’t respond with armed security. He recently arrived from a church in Lancaster, S.C., that did that after the Charleston shooting. Although that decision made him uncomfortable, Small says he respects why church leaders went in that direction.