COLUMBIA — Not only has George Tiller's death revived the abortion debate in America, but it's spurred conversations about church security and safety.
Some Columbia congregations were already taking heightened security measures to ensure their churches remain safe before the Kansas abortion doctor's May 31 shooting death; others are beginning to consider what precautions to take.
Jeff Baker of the Office of Creative Ministries and chairman of trustees at Fairview United Methodist Church participated last month in a workshop focused on increasing church security.
Recent church shootings
May 31: Christ Reformation Church, Witchita Kan.
March 8: First Baptist Church, Maryville Ill.
July 27, 2008: Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
Dec. 9, 2007: New Life Church, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Youth with a Mission Center, Arvada, Colo.
Aug. 12, 2007: First Congressional Church in Neosho
Source: Compiled from newser.com
Baker, who is also a former Boone County Sheriff's deputy, said he looks for ways to educate and inform others on how to approach ministry security.
The workshop, hosted by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety, was a response to an increase in church shootings.
The training session concentrated on two specific topics: what people should do if a shooter were to come into the building and how churches can become hard targets, or places more secure from intruders.
The issue of church security came to the forefront in March after a shooting rampage at a Baptist congregation in Maryville, Ill.
“Our hope is we can lead our pastors and educate ourselves,” Baker said. “I want to become more educated myself so I can get training to people who need it, so they can feel comfortable when the doors are opened.”
Todd Burke, a Columbia resident and owner of Tactical Training Specialties, is the firearms program manager and tactical medical instructor with Strategos International. His firm trains churches across the United States on security issues through a program called Intruder Response. The program is intended for what Burke calls a “response to the active shooter or intruder.”
Burke, who has professional experience in law enforcement, saw a need to train people to respond in shooting incidents. He became aware of this need after the Columbine school shootings in 1999.
The increase in church shootings, like the one in Maryville, led congregations to contact Burke. He said 95 percent of his business comes from people calling him for help. When he received calls from several churches, he decided to blend his skills with the needs of the faith community.
As a result, Burke offers workshops throughout Missouri and in 12 other states that teach people how to “change their mindset” and "become sheepdogs rather than sheep," he said.
“Churches aren’t immune,” Burke said, pointing out that fires, medical emergencies, accidents and a need for security are as necessary in a church as anywhere else.
Yet issues arise from congregants’ expectations of church safety. As Burke said, members do not want anything as visible as metal detectors, nor do they want to feel the building is a fortress.
“Part of the mindset is that this is a place of refuge and safety,” Burke said, but he feels that he must “teach people to have watchful eyes.”
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church emphasizes a welcoming attitude more than a need for increased security. However, members are encouraged to sign a list to agree that they won’t carry concealed weapons on the premises without express permission from the pastor. Ushers are also reminded to be aware of people coming in and out of the church.
“It’s kind of like the Old West – you leave your gun at the door,” said Monsignor Michael Flanagan of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Missouri United Methodist Church sent its business manager to a conference on church security, said senior pastor Jim Bryan. The church also has cameras set to keep watch on the building's entryways and hallways. But above all, the church wants to remain open and welcoming, Bryan said.
"The problem is you never know what's going to come up,” Bryan said. “We don't want the church to become a locked down fortress that's so foreboding no one will come here. We want people to feel it's a joyful, safe place."
For church safety, the emphasis is on having an open mindset, as well as a willingness to take proactive, yet unnoticeable measures to protect the congregation, experts and pastors agree.
“We’re trying to put this all together,” Baker said. “We think, ‘Let’s plant the seed. If they feel compelled to ask for help or feel susceptible ... give them formal training.'”
Although some church leaders have felt discomfort regarding heightened security, some now see it as a reality to be dealt with.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that we have to do this – that this is the kind of world we live in,” Baker said.
“Rather than being reactive, we’re trying to take proactive approaches.”