When Steve Blake, lead pastor and founder of Catalyst of Austin heard the news of the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Sunday, he immediately felt a gut-wrenching pain. He thought of all the pain and loss, and couldn’t help but think of his own East Austin church.
“While churches have always been a place of comfort, hope and peace, unfortunately they’ve also been the epicenter of attacks and demonstrations of evil,” he said.
In the aftermath of what’s being described as the largest church shooting in modern American history, Austin-area faith leaders are looking for ways that their houses of worship can be places that offer safety while welcoming people with open arms.
“I guess every pastor now has to think about these scenarios,” Blake said. “It’s unfortunate, but a reality of the world we live in now.”
Former FBI Counterintelligence Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi recommended churches consider a security plan that takes into account the size of the facility, the congregation and the neighborhood, among other things. “If you’re a church leader,” he said on MSNBC, “it’s time for you to sit down with your board, your elders, your parishioners and discuss that security plan.”
In Williamson County, Sheriff Robert Chody on Monday announced plans to organize a summit to offer security tips to churches of all sizes.
Although interested in a potential summit, Brian Ferguson, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Wildflower Church in South Austin said that perhaps what would be more helpful would be a summit addressing the culture of violence.
“There’s a bigger problem than just churches,” Ferguson said. “We need to transform the culture. Try to bring more love in the world. I don’t know what it’ll take to change things.”
Hours after 26 people were killed in the Sutherland Springs church shooting, state Attorney General Ken Paxton said Texans can help prevent mass shootings by carrying concealed guns.
“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry,” he told Fox News. “And so … there’s always the opportunity that a gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”
Griff Martin, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Austin, said in an email that the “Gospel response to violence is and always has been resurrection and it’s time as the church that we use our resurrection voice to remind the world there is a better way forward, a path of wholeness and good will, not the path of brokenness, division and violence that plague us today. We can do better and the church needs to raise her voice to demand that we do so.”
The church will hold a prayer vigil for the shooting victims at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Donations to cover medical and funeral expenses for the Sutherland Springs church members will be accepted.
“It’s a hard time to be a minister,” said Ferguson, whose church has been reviewing its safety measures since the mass shooting Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. “People are really searching for stability.”
A list of some US house of worship shootings since 2012
Some fatal shootings that have happened at U.S. houses of worship since 2012:
Nov. 5, 2017: Dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault weapon, 26-year-old Devin Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others.
Sept 24, 2017: Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, was charged with killing a woman and wounding six other people with gunshots at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn.
Aug. 13, 2016: Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin were fatally shot as they left a New York mosque. Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with second-degree murder.
Aug. 9, 2016: A shooting during a party at a Jersey City, N.J., church left 17-year-old Leander Williams dead and two teenage girls wounded. Daequan Jackson, 18, was charged with murder.
April 24, 2016: Mark Storms fatally shot 27-year-old Robert Braxton III during Sunday services in a suburban Philadelphia church. Storms, 46, argued self-defense, but was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
Feb. 28, 2016: Rev. William B. Schooler, 70, was fatally shot by his 68-year-old brother inside an office at St. Peter’s Missionary Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, as Sunday services were winding down. Daniel Schooler was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 31 years to life in prison.
June 17, 2015: Nine black worshippers including a pastor were killed by Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, after he prayed with them for nearly an hour. The shooting happened at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, S.C.. Roof was convicted of federal hate-crime and obstruction-of-religion charges and sentenced to death.
April 13, 2014: Neo-Nazi and former Ku Klux Klan leader Frazier Miller Jr. fatally shot Dr. William Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson Reat Underwood outside an Overland Park, Kan., Jewish center as they arrived for a community event. He then drove to a Jewish retirement community where he fatally shot Terry LaManno, who was visiting her mother.
March 31, 2013: A 28-year-old man fatally shot his father during Easter services at the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, Ohio. Reshad Riddle then made a rambling statement at the pulpit while yelling about God and Allah, still holding his handgun as panicked worshippers fled the church.
Dec. 2, 2012: Elementary school music teacher Gregory Eldred, 52, shot his ex-wife, Darlene Sitler, while she played the organ during a church service at the First United Presbyterian Church in Coudersport, Penn.
Oct. 24, 2012: A former facilities maintenance employee at World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga., opened fire, killing church volunteer Greg McDowell, 39, while he was leading a prayer. Police arrested Floyd Palmer, 51, who was found guilty but mentally ill and sentenced to life in prison.
Aug. 5, 2012: Six members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, were fatally shot by a white supremacist, Wade Michael Page. Page was shot by a responding officer and later killed himself.
May 9, 2012: Joseph Lewis Jr., 84, was fatally shot while sitting in a car guarding Victory Way Assembly Church of God in Christ in Detroit. Two teenagers, 15-year-old Anthony Williams and 18-year-old Alandre Boone, attacked him while a Bible study took place inside. Police suspected robbery was the motive. Both teenagers were tried and convicted as adults for second-degree murder.
May 3, 2012: A homeless man killed himself after fatally shooting a priest and a church secretary at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Md. Police said Douglas Franklin Jones had been turned away from the church food bank about two weeks earlier for visiting every day instead of weekly.
Source: Associated Press