PROTECTING THE FLOCK: Awareness and preparation help churches secure congregations
Apastor in Stutsman County couldn't attend a Sheepdog Seminar held in Jamestown Saturday, but he was grateful it was being held. So grateful he sent a letter of thanks to the seminar founder.
Apastor in Stutsman County couldn’t attend a Sheepdog Seminar held in Jamestown Saturday, but he was grateful it was being held. So grateful he sent a letter of thanks to the seminar founder.
“The pastor said he has been in the ministry for many years and that he has been assaulted and threatened in his church and had to call the police,” said the Rev. James Meeks, the seminar’s founder.
Victory Lutheran Church hosted the seminar with about 250 people in attendance, including law enforcement officers from North Dakota and South Dakota.
Meeks said the pastor, who asked to remain anonymous, said people in the community where he lives don’t think there is a problem or a need to beef up his church’s security because people think nothing bad will happen here.
Meeks, who has been a Baptist minister for 44 years and served 35 years as a police officer in Texas and Oklahoma, said in 2017 there were 114 people killed in churches or faith-based properties across the country, a new record. The previous record was 77 killed in 2015.
“We’re looking at 870-something violent deaths on faith-based properties (nationally) since 1999,” he said.
Sheepdog Seminars, based in Texas, put on seminars to show people who work in or for churches and other faithbased properties how they can avoid or stop events like church shootings or assaults on church property. Meeks, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a retired Army veteran and security expert, and Carl Chinn, a nationally-recognized expert on church violence, present at a Sheepdog Seminar. They go over statistics showing that churches are not the “safe places” some church members and ministers think they are, then show pastors and anyone who is interested the best ways to make churches safe.
Meeks said one of the best ways a church can protect its people is to have someone in the parking lot watching people as they arrive. He said in the church he and his wife were married in 40 years ago, on June 22, 1980, a man walked into the church carrying two rifles and two handguns, wearing two bulletproof vests and an Army helmet. The man shot 10 people and killed five.
“Surely someone in the parking lot would have seen this man and said ‘Whoa, what’s going on here,’” he said.
Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police, helped bring the seminar here. He said the seminar shows there is a need for people to be more vigilant given recent events like the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 27 people were killed.
“It (the seminar) brings home a lot of the current events that we have been lucky to not have so far in our area,” he said.
Edinger said North Dakota law lets churches decided on whether or not they want armed people in their buildings. He said having someone posted in the parking lot of a church is a good idea, but nothing is foolproof.
“You never know where someone is coming from,” he said. “Can posting someone in the parking lot make a difference? Absolutely.”