There have been more than 20 Church shootings since 1999 in the United States. And since then, the threat continues to grow with proactive churches looking to ensure even further than their congregations will have a safe place to worship.
“We prefer to be safe rather than sorry,” said Pastor Cory Jones with CF Paris. “The safety of our congregants is first and foremost for our church.”
The last shooting in Texas at White Settlement saw the least amount of casualties due to the church’s own security team jumping into action and suppressing the assailant.
“If there is any church in this state, in America, that was prepared for this, it was this church,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said at a news conference after the incident. “They had done their training. And I think that you could see it in the results.”
Now, as the world has changed from a church being predominantly an untouched sanctuary, no matter your religion, worshippers face the uneasy task of choosing to go to Sunday service and wondering if they will, in fact, be safe.
When it comes to Lamar County churches, some have already been proactive in making changes. Hence, their congregants know their church is as safe as possible should there ever come a time when they are not safe, volunteer, and hired safety teams are ready to neutralize any potentially harmful situation.
Jones said his church has both a hired security team and a safety team.
“Our hired security team are off-duty police officers who are present at our church during our services in uniforms and patrol cars,” he said. “Our safety team is made up of retired law enforcement and are here in plain clothes.”
Jones said that when it comes to keeping his congregants safe, it is a task he wished didn’t exist but understands it’s a must in today’s world.
CNN reported that Senate Bill 535 took effect in September and clarifies possession of firearms at places of worship. The bill allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship.
“We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun-free zone. Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement when the bill was passed in September. “It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm.”
In 2017 SB 2065, went into effect that allowed licensed gun owners to enter a church or place of worship with a gun unless a signposted advised they couldn’t. What SB 535 did was clear up the language and interpretation of the 2017 bill to allow licensed carriers to enter into buildings or worship sign or no sign.
This change has not only enabled safety and volunteer teams alongside hired security the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon, but it has also enabled some pastors to do the same without the worry of repercussion.
But not all churches have followed the same action plan, they all seem to have specifically designed action plans for their respective congregation.
Father Denzil Vithanage, with Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, said that not only has his church been taking steps to protect his congregation better, but the Catholic dioceses have also been taking steps for their churches to become an even safer place for all who need it.
“We took part in a presentation that the Paris Police Department put on for all church leaders to attend. After that presentation, we invited those officers to come to our church and give us further advice on what we could do to protect ourselves better,” said Fr. Vithanage.
Over many months, Our Lady of Victory has been attending workshops and the dioceses also helped in securing a former FBI agent and former Dallas PD officer to help as well.
“I will never obstruct our parishioners from their right to protect themselves,” added Fr. Vithanage.
Further explaining that he believes that good citizens abide by the law, and they are not ones that we should be worrying about.
“We have safety measures in place, including security camera’s set throughout the chapel for safety,” he said. “We also have a handful of parishioners who are law enforcement officers who help keep a watchful eye over our services for anything or anyone that looks out of place.”
Fr. Vithanage says they are very proactive in continuing to keep the church and its near 800 members who attend service over any given weekend safe from harm the best way they can to allow them a safe haven to worship.
The proactive approach to keeping the congregation safe is not just with the larger churches in the county but the smaller ones also such as Brookston Baptist Church who has also enlisted the help of law enforcement to keep the congregation safe.
Pastor BK Moody said that even though they are a small church of around 50 people, it is still important to be just as safe as the larger ones.
“We don’t have an official titled security team, but we do have a small number of volunteers who unofficially take note of who’s who in the church and what to do in the case of an emergency,” said Moody.
A few years back, Moody said some of his parishioners had asked about an action plan if something like an active shooter situation were to take place. This was when he decided it was a good idea to enlist the help of law enforcement to help identify any areas that needed attention to keeping the church safe.
“We continually check our exits, and areas that are used for a lockdown should a situation occur. We want to be overprepared, not underprepared,” he said.
He further explained that he is confident in their set action plan and that unfortunately, most shooters will target the pastor, so it is essential to change some aspects of the service, so you as a pastor aren’t left in a vulnerable position.
“We always need to be visual, eyes open, and do our best not to make ourselves a target,” he said.
Since the December shooting in White Settlement, there has been plenty of press surrounding the heroics of the volunteer security guard that saved so many lives and neutralized the shooter.
But it would seem that more than a handful of local churches here in Lamar County did not wait until the ‘what if’, they had already begun their work in becoming proactive to keeping their congregations safe from all harm.
They are our shepherds who continuously watch over their flocks.