Dave Bowman/AP
Todd Woolston is a member of Bethel Temple in Hampton, Va., where he has trained
a security team to be prepared for violent attack at the church.

Churches’ New Responsibility: Protecting Parishioners

November 10, 2008 11:29 AM
by Emily Coakley
More churches are hiring security staff or enlisting trained volunteers to protect the thousands of worshippers who gather there on weekends.

As Congregations Grow, So Does Potential for Problems

It’s not uncommon for a church to have armed guards, according to CNN.

“We realized that, as the largest Baptist church in Kentucky, we’d be a little naïve to think something would never happen to us. We’re catching up in an era of terrorism and a church is no different,” Randy Record told CNN. Record is a police officer and pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville.

Churches have been the scene of violent attacks on several occasions in the last few years. Just last week, CNN said, a minister was shot and killed outside of a church in Kentucky, and another man was injured.

Last year, four people were killed and another five were wounded when a man attacked two churches in Colorado. An armed volunteer stopped the attack, and is widely credited with saving dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

That incident encouraged many churches, such as Nebraska’s Lincoln Berean Church, to consider adding security systems or personnel.
Still, though more incidents are being reported, crime is not common at churches. After last year’s shooting at Colorado’s New Life Church, the Religion News Service reported that violent crimes accounted for five percent of claims filed with one insurer that had 40,000 churches as clients.

The United States isn’t the only place where churches are protecting themselves. In May, security guards started patrolling Rome’s Santa Maria degli Angeli at Assisi, according to the Times of London. The security firm said the guards were there at the friars’ request because of “thefts from offertory boxes as well as harassment of visitors by beggars and pickpockets.”

Churches with enormous congregations, also known as “mega-churches” have led to an “entire industry devoted to protecting and securing crowds that can be larger than some towns or shopping malls,” reported the Religion News Service.

At such churches there is often a great deal of cash from the offertory.

Opinion & Analysis: Sanctuary no more

Robert Todd Carroll, writing on the site Mass Media Funk, said he hasn’t thought of churches as sanctuaries since one was bombed in Alabama in 1963, killing four children. The conspirators in the plot escaped justice for several years before eventually being tried and convicted.

As incidents such as the one at New Life Church are reported more frequently, Carroll wonders whether more people will take matters into their own hands to save other’s lives, as Jeanne Assam did. Assam is the guard who shot at the gunman and interrupted his attack.

The thought of churchmenbers protecting each other still isn’t comforting, he wrote, “because even though I’ve meditated on this long and hard I can’t for the life of me decide what kind of gun the Prince of Peace would buy.”

Kathie Costos, who describes herself as a chaplain who lives in Florida and serves veterans, commented on the CNN story on her blog, Wounded Times. “It’s a very sad day in America when churches need security guards with guns,” she wrote. “There are no longer limits criminals even find offensive.”

After last year’s New Life Church shootings, Barry Noreen wrote in the Colorado Springs Gazette that many people probably hadn’t thought previously about guards in churches, but should have.

“Before Sunday’s tragedy, some might have thought it a bit over the top to have armed guards at New Life Church. By Monday morning, those people awoke to what might have seemed a new, harsher world. No. It’s the same dangerous place it was just a couple of days ago.”

“It’s sad,” he wrote, “that such measures are necessary at a church, where everyone expects to find peace and serenity.”

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