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Keeping Churches Safe and Welcoming

There's been an increase in acts of violence committed in public places. On Nov. 5, 2017, 26 people were killed at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. In 2015, a shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina killed 9 people during a prayer meeting. And guns are not the only concerns that United Methodist congregations share when thinking about the safety of all those who attend services. That's why the Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist in Boise, Idaho started a dialogue about church safety.

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(Locator: Boise, Idaho)

The Rev. Duane Anders, Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church: “Our parents taught us, 'The church is a safe place. The church is our home.’”

Pastor Duane Anders of Boise, Idaho’s Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church has seen a lot has change over his 20 plus years in ministry.

The Rev Duane Anders: “It wasn’t that long ago that we never thought of an airplane as a weapon."

Visitors used to ask questions like, “Do you have a youth group?” Today the concern is security.

The Rev. Duane Anders, Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church: “Active shooter, child abuse. Some might be afraid to especially talk about these things in the church. But we live in a sinful world. So we’re saying, 'Let’s raise the responsibility and create safe places.'”

Robert Johnson (leading workshop): “The mantra today for active shooter response is: ‘run, hide, fight.’”

In 2016, Cathedral of the Rockies hosted their first Safe Church Summit. The two-day event covered active shooter scenarios, personal defense workshops, CPR classes, and tips on increasing security especially in areas for children.

The Rev. Brenda Sene, Hillview United Methodist Church: “With the violence that’s been in some of the churches, I wanted to see if there was a way we could be safe.”

Joe Prin, Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church: “How many people in a worship service of 500 here in this church are packing? How many have guns? And what if something did happen? How would they respond? It’s a scary situation. We don’t know. And that’s the thing. We’ve got to think all these things through.”

Facilities manager Joe Prin advised churches to seek help from members who are firefighters, police officers, or have a military background.

Joe Prin: “We have to prepare as much for this as we do about deciding how to feed people who are hungry or how to provide shelter for those that are experiencing homelessness. This is as critical of a ministry as anything else that we do. This is the reality of the world today.”

Booths offered support from groups that advocate for children and companies that sell church insurance and personal defense products.

Vendor at a booth: “What a stun gun does is it captures a muscle group and it causes a spasming effect. It causes short-term paralysis.”

(Loud buzz of stun gun) “Woah!”

Safety summit speakers raised practical questions.

Robert Johnson, Presenter: “If something happens at your church and you or one of your volunteers takes action, will your church’s insurance policy absolutely defend your church?”

The event had 250 participants from 34 churches across many denominations, all with similar concerns.

Joe Prin: “One of the kneejerk reactions to security issues is to lock the doors.”

But organizers say there’s no need for uniformed guards. Arm your volunteers with knowledge and a plan of action.

Joe Prin: “We’re gonna have ushers that are more than a smiling face and a handshake. They’re gonna be observant. They’re gonna be vigilant.”

Churches can be both welcoming and safe.

Joe Prin: “We don’t have to be fearful. We’re protected. We are trained. We are ready to respond.”


Learn more about the Safe Church Summitt and Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist who organized the event. And learn more about ways United Methodists can take a stand against gun violence.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on November 23, 2016.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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