Illinois church violence prompts conversations in Columbia

Sunday, March 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:28 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 14, 2010

COLUMBIA — One week after an Illinois man shot and killed a Baptist pastor in the middle of a worship service, some Columbia congregations are rethinking their security measures.

It's impossible for pastors to prevent violent situations in churches, said Paul Moessner, senior pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Columbia.“Our society is big on guns. It seems in recent years , we've learned that if you don’t like someone, you shoot them."

Safety suggestions

Jeff Hawkins and Chuck Chadwick offered some security and emergency preparedness suggestions for congregations and houses of worship:

  •     Establish a safety team.
  •     Initiate background screening for staff members.
  •     Place protective police in the parking lots and near the pulpit.
  •     Hire undercover or unarmed guards.
  •     Place video surveillance cameras outside and inside the church.

Sources: Christian Security Network and church security conference

Terry Sedlacek has been charged in the March 8 shooting at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill. Two men in the church restrained Sedlacek until police arrived, reports say. Sedlacek is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting, which left Fred Winters dead.

It is unfortunate that "we have people out there that just want to hurt others," said the Rev. Ed Rollins, associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbia.

"We develop procedures for the safety of children, theft, and have things in stored for other situations, but not for someone to come in shooting.”

Churches are generally thought to be safe havens and don't have security screening areas like courthouses or airports. Also known as a fortress, the church is believed to be a protective place to escape society's hostility and cruelty.  

Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network, wrote in a newsletter sent by e-mail that "this incident only underscores how serious every Christian church in the U.S. should be taking security.”

Moessner said St. Andrew Lutheran will not be changing anything about its operations, and he will not be taking any additional precautions on Sundays.

Rollins said First Baptist plans to send someone to a ministry security course to learn more about the strategies for preventing these types of incidents.
But the question remains, how can churches and pastors prevent violent circumstances from occurring?

Hawkins and Chuck Chadwick, director of the National Organization of Church Security & Safety Management, offer training and articles for ministries, schools and churches on how to assess risk and keep the church safe.

Hawkins stressed the importance of church security in his weekly executive letter, writing: “As we have stated time and time again, the church is seen as a 'soft target' —  with over 75 percent of churches having no security or emergency plans in place, what resistance could a gunman expect walking into a church?”

Along with Hawkins’ online seminars, Chadwick is coordinating a church security conference in May, June and July, where speakers will discuss topics on emergency action plans, security policies, staff identification, pastoral protection and evacuations.  


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