Packing while praying: Local churches take aim to protect members

In this June 19, 2015 file photo, police tape surrounds the parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church as FBI forensic experts work the crime scene, in Charleston, S.C. Prosecutors who wanted to show that Dylann Roof was a cruel, angry racist simply used his own words at his death penalty trial on charges he killed nine black people in June 2015 at a Charleston church. Roof's two-hour videotaped confession less than a day after the shooting and a handwritten journal found in his car when he was arrested were introduced into evidence Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — In recent years, churches have joined the long list of places marred by gun violence; therefore local pastors are coming up with a plan to protect their congregations from any kind of a threat.

“We live in a dangerous world. It’s not as innocent as it used to be,” reflected Reverend William E. Harris, Jr., Pastor of Believers Christian Fellowship Church.

Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In South Carolina in June 2015, a hate crime claims nine innocent lives when Dylann Roof opens fire inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.

Read more about the sentence handed down to Dylann Roof here

Closer to home, gunfire erupts inside St. Peters Missionary Baptist Church in February 2016 leaving Reverend William Schooler dead, and sending church members scrambling.

“Then we heard pow pow pow. That’s when everybody started running,” described Loretta Smith, a member of St. Peters Missionary Baptist Church.

The accused gunman is the pastor’s own brother, Daniel Schooler.

Read where the case stands here

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it that my pastor is gone,” cried Vonetta McGraw, another member of St. Peters Missionary Baptist Church member.

It’s because of incidents like this that churches are taking action.

“I know some pastors — put it this way — feel that it’s necessary to arm themselves,” stated Rev. Harris.

He has been a pastor for more than 20 years. He hasn’t reached that point yet, but he knows some members of his church are packing.

Read more on Ohio’s concealed carry law here

“Even some of the ladies after church they’ll come to me and say yes reverend I have, I have my weapon with me,” said Rev. Harris.

“Doesn’t bother me at all. As long as they don’t have any mental issues,” stated Yvette Stiles, a member of Believers Christian Fellowship Church.

“I’m a CCW holder but I don’t bring my gun to church,” admitted Believers Christian Fellowship Church member Teena Davis. “I do have things that I can protect myself with. It doesn’t bother me that other people are packing. It gives me somewhat of a relief that I know that we’re going to fight to the end.”

Two women embrace after a shooting inside St Peters Missionary Baptist Church.

Others don’t feel the same.

“It makes me uncomfortable people packing in church because you never know what’s going to set a person off at this particular point,”said Calvin Heard, another member of Believers Christian Fellowship Church.

Believers Christian Fellowship Church in Dayton will take part in active shooter training. Heard is spear-heading the effort.

Read more or sign up your organization for active shooter training here

“You hate to see that happen in a church, but it’s everywhere right now,” said Heard.

Rev. Harris says safety in churches has changed a lot over the years.

Watch the extended version:

“Some of our churches actually have safety teams,” said Harris. “The church that I came out of in Washington, D.C. we had what we called sentinels. They were a security team actually and they assisted in the parking lot as well as when we took up an offering. They would follow the basket to the proper place and make sure, you know, no incident occurred.”

A safety team is something Tad Stoll put together a few years ago at Springboro Baptist Church. He’s been coming there for about 35 years.

“We understand that in this day and age there is evil, and we need to train and we need to pray for nothing to happen. But we need to prepare for if and when it does,” said Stoll.

His team has already taken part in active shooter training, sponsoring a course in March.

“We’re actually training people to respond as if the event really is happening and not with an incorrect response like lockdown, but with an actual response that involves evacuation of the facility, bariccading if you can’t leave, or counter measures in direct contact with a threat,” stated Joseph Hendry, National Trainer for A.L.I.C.E. Training Institute.

“I would rather be doing something different Sunday morning than looking out for the church family. But it is what it is and we need to accept the responsibility,” admitted Stoll.

Stoll is also a CCW permit holder and believes guns should be allowed in churches.

“My little tagline when I send out email is pray hard and shoot straight,” Stoll smiled.

While some are still undecided about the place of weapons in sanctuaries, churchgoers recognize violence is now a reality and say preparation is just as important as prayer.

“I just think it’s important for people to be able to protect themselves,” stated Stiles.

“We believe in God. We believe that He will protect us. But He also gives us common sense and the ability to protect ourselves,” said Davis.

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