Churches eye security concerns after Sutherland Springs tragedy

Following the tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, church services across the country engaged in prayer for those who were injured, the lives lost, and the families and communities in mourning.

The events hit especially close to home for members of Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda, who grieved with those in Sutherland Springs who were affiliated with the state’s Baptist convention.

Members made trips to the area to pray with people, bring comfort and help with practical needs such as assisting in setting up vigils said Aaron Kahler, lead pastor with Hays Hills.

“They are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Kahler added.

During such a weary time, however, congregants brought concerns and questions about whether their church had security measures in the event of an active shooter, he said.

What makes churches vulnerable to shootings, Kahler said, is that people attending service are viewed as soft targets and defenseless to those who wish to do harm.

During service, Kahler said, he reassured congregants that security measures such as plain clothes law enforcement were present during the service and throughout the campus.

But for everyone’s safety, Kahler did not publicize all security details. 

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, church leaders have adopted security measures out of an initial concern for the children who spend a few days of the week on the church campus, Kahler said.

After a security consultation with Austin Police Department, locks were installed inside classroom doors in order to prevent entrance, Kahler said.

Training in safety procedures were taken by all church staff, while communication methods were improved between buildings, so that in the event of an active shooter, lockdowns could take place, Kahler said. 

The occurrence of violence, whether at a school or at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church is the “unfortunate nature of the world that we live in today,” Kahler said.

Darlene Boaz, Kyle United Methodist Church pastor, said the shooting is a call to understand the challenges communities face to be welcoming and supportive of people who may be isolated and in need of professional help, as the Sutherland Springs shooter was.

“The solution is not to exclude them (isolated individuals), but to gather around them,” Boaz said.

Boaz added congregants have not brought to her fears about their safety, but that she has begun to explore what security protocols and trainings are available.

Her preference is to have service free from guns.

In determining a security protocol, she said, “Bottom line . . . we will not be dictated by fear.”

Church members will continue to be aware of their surrounding, but Boaz does not see a significant change in their engagement with newcomers to the church. 

In similar sentiment to many pastors, Kahler said, regardless of the security procedures in place, their trust in Jesus Christ is the ultimate security measure.

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