Like many South Georgia congregations, Bonaire United Methodist Church is fortunate to count among its members several law enforcement officers and federal agents. Vigilant and sensitive to their surroundings even during worship services, they keep an eye out for dangers most don’t notice.
Still mindful of the need to gird up the Bonaire UMC campus and keep the congregation safe, senior pastor Dr. Scott Hagan attended a church security workshop last April and learned valuable tips that he and church leaders have begun implementing.
“No one wants to think about the unthinkable, but we do have an obligation as pastors and leaders to be shepherds of a flock with all of the responsibility that that language carries,” he said. “So church security has really been on the minds of a lot of people even before the tragic events in Sutherland Springs, Texas.”
The Nov. 5 attack at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, left 26 dead and 20 wounded. It also brought security and safety to the forefront of pastors’ and church leaders’ minds. Training and protection have fast become the focus of seminars, classes, and materials as church leaders ask, “How do I keep my congregation safe?,” “How do I prepare for an active shooter?,” and “How can I make my church more secure?”
One such training is an upcoming Church Security Workshop, a one-hour seminar hosted by the Office of Connectional Ministries, that will provide practical steps a church can take to reduce the risk of an incident occurring as well as how to be prepared if an event should occur.
“I have received many inquiries following the incident in Texas, and the responses by local churches have been across the board. I do not want our churches to be held hostage by fear, but to be informed and equipped with tools and insight to keep their congregations safe without becoming a fortress,” said Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries. “I think plans for security and safety for many different situations is crucial, not just active shooters. This is a complex issue for churches.”
The workshop is set for Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 10 a.m. at Forest Hills United Methodist Church in Macon. Brent Loeffler, a member of Bainbridge First United Methodist Church who also serves with the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, will lead the training.
Clergy and church leaders can participate in one of three ways: Attend in person at Forest Hills UMC; watch the training via the live stream (a link will be posted the morning of the training at www.sgaumc.org/churchsecurity); or view a recording of the training at your convenience when it is released and made available as a webinar (www.sgaumc.org/churchsecurity).
Dr. Hagan, concerned that mass shootings have increased, has drafted a three-part plan to increase security at the church. Church leaders have discussed plans for several months, but recent events sped up the expansion of their security team, he said. He also plans to attend the Connectional Ministries’ Church Security Worship to gain more training.
“My fear is it’s happening so often it’s becoming the norm,” he said.
Bonaire UMC’s safety plan includes gathering a security team of lay people and law enforcement officials, training the security team around the plan, and having the team maintain a strong presence.
“I encourage our local churches to partner with their local law enforcement agencies to be in ministry together around safety,” Lindsey said. “In our society today, helping our members be mindful of safety everywhere, everyday, could broaden our outreach as a church. Developing a plan and communicating that plan to all members will help our churches be proactive and not reactive around any incidents that might occur.”
Additional resources can be found at www.sgaumc.org/security.