Clary Dishmond, a pastor at Third Chapel Baptist in Midville, was one of a few attendees who found a training session on church security a bit contradictory Monday.
“A house of worship is always sacred, and considered to be a safe haven and safe place for people to come and be themselves, and get what they need on a spiritual and emotional level,” he said. “But today we are looking at a different world where you never know what people are going to do, so you have to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.”
More than 20 residents attended the Religious Assembly held by the Burke County Sheriff’s Office on how to update church safety plans and strengthen security measures.
Many jotted down notes as Scott Usry, a training coordinator with the sheriff’s office, made his way through a presentation detailing church security.
Dishmond, who was also a pastor for 20 years at Brown Grove in Blythe, said the training offered insight into making sure that his church had “dedicated people in place to take care of safety needs.” He said it is something he never thought he would have needed “some years ago.”
Usry said church security is needed now and is often taken for granted.
“Growing up like I did in a small church, this isn’t something we had to worry about,” he said. “We didn’t have to worry about whether we were going to be safe in church.”
However, with the recent shooting at a First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 men, women and children Usry said it is imperative for each church to update security plans or develop them.
The shooter, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelly, was reported to have been in a “domestic situation” with his mother-in-law, an attendee of the First Baptist Church, during which he sent the woman threatening texts before he opened fire on its congregation.
Domestic situations are among several controversial issues that can make any church a target, Usry said. Other potential targets include:
Whether the church is high profile
Whether the church is in an area with religious issues
Whether the church consoles hurting marriages and families
Whether the church is located in a high crime area
Whether the church receives large cash offerings
Usry advised attendees to consider these potential targets as they make security plans.
“They want a soft target to get their agenda across,” Usry said. “What can make your church a target for these issues?” he asked.
He displayed a 10-step “Team Planning Path” into acquiring security. As attendees took down notes of the 10-step procedure, Usry addressed use of firearms.
In Georgia, the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 restricts guns by licensed holders in a place of worship “unless the governing body or authority of the place of worship permits the carrying of weapons.”
“If you want to have firearms in your church, that’s up to you, and your staff deacons and pastorial staff to decide,” Usry said. “You have the right to bear arms if you choose to. You also have the right not to bear arms if you choose. So if it is a church that is encouraged to carry firearms, get as much training as you can.”
He also addressed security measures in relation to emergency situations, such as a natural disaster, and touched on some attendees concerns for liabilty.
“The liability issue is something that everybody wants to talk about because nobody wants to be liable for any wrongdoing,” Usry said. “The only thing I can tell you is you would be just as liable for doing nothing than if you do too much.”
Usry said follow-up training will be held depending on needs.
“Everybody needs to have some plan of action for an emergency situation like an active shooter or a natural disaster or a fire,” he said. “So this is hopefully the first step in a long networking process to get help out to every member of the community.”