A Shift in Place of Worship Security
For many places of worship, the way they viewed safety and security changed on the night of June 17, 2015; the night that Charleston AME church in Charleston, SC was violently attacked by a gunman. From then on, church security became a headline across the United States and small town churches as well as large churches, began putting in place church safety plans and procedures to address risk. During an interview I conducted with a Pastor of a small town church, just 70 miles from Charleston, we discussed how the Charleston shooting created a security shift for many small town churches, like his own. Pastor Milton Stubblefield has been pastoring for decades in small town churches and the shooting in his home state helped to propel the safety and security changes their church had already been working on.
How did the Charleston AME shooting change things for safety and security in your small town church?
While we had already begun to address safety issues regarding our church and daycare, the senseless slaying of innocent people in the AME church of Charleston certainly fueled the conversation and heightened the awareness. We became even more proactive in a quicker fashion to expedite some of the changes we had been planning to make.
Did you have a safety team prior to the shooting?
While we didn’t have an organized safety team, we had been changing our method of operations with safety and security in mind. Things like, how we receive offerings, handle monies, installing security cameras, etc. were already in place.
Are there members of your congregation trained to respond to emergencies in your church, specifically during services?
Yes and we are in the process of having a fully functioning and well-trained team of safety responders who will both help us be vigilant and watchful, then respond appropriately in the event of a crisis situation.
Have you connected with other community churches to discuss safety procedures they may use?
We have made some connections and we have hosted a training conference with a leading statewide safety and security training company that was open to other congregations as well. We are developing a collaborative network of safety people from other churches where we can work together for the greater good of the community.
Have you met with your local first responders to make emergency plans as necessary?
This is an ongoing process that we are making a priority. We currently are hosting a CWP training event this month which will provide arms training and qualifying for several who will help make up that team. From there, those who are selected will undergo further training and development to both have input into the emergency planning and receive training on that process, we are looking to our community leaders for their knowledge and help enacting these policies.
From talking with Pastor Stubblefield, it became apparent that heightened safety and security efforts were well underway for many places of worship prior to the shooting at Charleston AME, but after that incident, church safety plans and discussions became a focal point and helped propel many churches into a more safety conscious mindset. Safety is something that should always be discussed at any facility, including places of worship. Large churches have had church safety plans and security protocols for years, but small town churches were not as proactive because of limited resources or other factors, that has changed in the past few years and the incident at Charleston AME created a more safety conscious religious community.