DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – For many people of faith in the Miami Valley, they come to local churches to pray, others to sing praises.
And very few think about being inside these holy places and under attack, having to take cover from gunfire. Yet that is what happened in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday evening.
It has sparked a conversation across the nation, and in Dayton, home also to several historic African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.)
“Racism is still in America,” Rev. Elmer Martin frankly stated.
Rev. Martin is the lead pastor at Greater Allen A.M.E. Church. He tells 2 NEWS Charleston’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E fatal shooting puts a spotlight on the nation’s dirty past and reflective present.
Yet, the reverend says the shooting, which killed 9 people and is believed to be a hate crime, is binding together Dayton’s A.M.E church.
Rev. Gerald Cooper is helping. He leads Wayman Chapel A.M.E., the oldest A.M.E church in the region dating back to the 1830s.
“It’s really more than a denomination,” the pastor emphasized, “It’s a family.”
Families are known to protect each other. But often churches are unsuspecting that they need protection.
“When I became a pastor 41 years ago, the church was one of the most safest places to be,” Greater Allen’s pastor reflected. “My first church was so safe that we didn’t even lock the doors.”
Mark Stusek, a former Dayton officer, and now security specialist says times have changed.
Asked if churches nationally and locally are vulnerable to these types of shootings as seen in Charleston, Stusek quickly answered, “Very much so. The reason being is whether you’re talking about a church or school, you’re talking about a soft target.”
The G2G Solutions president explains that soft targets are places that often don’t have security measures in place and are unexpected targets.
2 NEWS asked Rev. Cooper whether he feels any vulnerability as he walks through his church’s doors.
“‘It’s not at the forefront of my conscience,” he said.
Yet, Rev. Cooper’s church has still taken safety measures.
“We have hired security– paid security for our regular events. For larger events, we have our paid security, plus a volunteer security team for larger events. We did have to purchase cameras, but it’s just the reality of the day,” the candid pastor said.
It’s a reality Stusek says is sure to remain in the coming days, but also coming years, as the sacredness of churches is not observed by society, and thus making these holy places sitting ducks for heinous crimes.