Churches under fire: Vigils or vigilance?

Monday, October 2, 2017
The shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., Sunday has left more than blood-stained sidewalks and broken glass in its wake. Local church leaders ponder safety measures to keep their congregations safe.
Photos by Jay Langston

Just as church members at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., were leaving Sunday services, a masked gunman killed one woman in the parking lot on his way to shooting the preacher, his wife and four more members before being subdued by a heroic usher.

Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, a black Sudanese immigrant, has been charged with one count of murder, according to Nashville police, with more charges to follow.

The shooting has sparked conversations at churches across the country, and local churches in Marshall County have joined the conversation about church security. “Yes, we had a discussion months ago about these kinds of possibilities,” First United Methodist Church Pastor Mark Irvin said. “And this (the shooting in Antioch) underscores the necessity to care for the security of our members. We have, and we will continue, to do this as a congregation.”

“We have deep concerns about the security and safety of our people,” Irvin continued. “It is unfortunately prudent at this time to discuss this, and that we have a sense of preparedness. I am in the process of getting some people together again about security.”

Asked about whether or not church members had discussed the shooting in Antioch Sunday, and any new safety measures, “The elders have talked about it, but haven’t filled me in yet,” Isaac Bourne, the pulpit minister of the Chapel Hill Church of Christ said. When asked about any security measures, “I’m sure there are, but I’m not privy to it,” he added.

Digging deeper into subject of safety procedures at the Chapel Hill Church of Christ, one of the elders was queried about any meetings that might have taken place among church leaders after the shooting that took place approximately 40 miles away in Antioch, Tenn.

“Not officially,” church Elder Alvin Pratt said. “We haven’t sat down and had an official discussion yet. I don’t see us making any changes yet. We may talk about it and change things. We have several members who have their (handgun) carry license, and I’m sure that some of them do (in church services).

Pratt said he does not have a Tennessee Dept. of Safety Handgun Carry Permit, but he has “been thinking about getting it, though. A couple of our elders have their carry permits. Some of our members are police officers, and state troopers.”

Ramping up security at churches has some concerned. “We have four or five entrance doors and we have talked about locking them, but we haven’t yet,” Pratt said. “We don’t want to lock our doors to people, and don’t want people to think the worst, but you’ve got to be prepared.”