Sanctuary Safety: Not Even Churches Are Off-Limits to Violence
At Grace Baptist Church in West Valley City, pastor Matt Johnson makes sure it's men who stand at the back of the church to not only greet and usher but to simply be a presence that could deter crime or protect the congregation if need be.
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“We definitely tightened security a lot after 9/11,” said Pam Gladstone , the executive director of Congregation Beth El in Norfolk.
Beth El hires off-duty police officers to stand guard at all worship services and gatherings. Outer doors are always locked, and admission tickets issued by the synagogue are required for high holy day events. If a disturbance breaks out in the sanctuary, Rabbi Arthur Ruberg can trip a silent alarm that summons police, Gladstone said.
In the case of most random shootings—a deranged gunman looking to make a statement—some observers said there is only so much churches can do. Dave Travis, the managing director of Leadership Network, a Dallas-based megachurch think tank, noted that the mother of Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1974 as she sat at the church organ.Leader's Insight: Security Against Shooters
"The security threat of a crazed person—there's just no way to totally prepare for that," he said.
Situational crime expert Ronald Clarke outlined these steps for avoiding an active-shooter incident:
- Increase early identification. A person with a gun drawn is an obvious threat. But attitude or body language can also suggest a threat. Greeters or church staff should extend a personal greeting to anyone who looks suspicious.
- Limit access. A shooter will likely arrive after the service begins. Close sanctuary doors once a service begins and train ushers to meet latecomers and guide them to designated seating areas.
- Reduce provocation. Train ushers to deny access, firmly but respectfully, to people who are unstable, agitated, angry, or intoxicated.
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