Churches were long considered as safe havens immune from the turmoil of the surrounding world, but that has changed in recent years with deadly violence erupting in places of worship.
In light of incidents such as the mass shooting on Nov. 5 in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 people were killed at a Baptist church, Mount Airy police are being proactive.
This includes offering a free class on Saturday aimed at helping local congregations become more secure to prevent similar acts here.
The Safe Sanctuaries class will be conducted from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Mount Airy Police Department training room, instructed by Lt. Kevin Westmoreland. It is free and open to the public, with reference material to be provided by the department.
“Any church group can come,” Capt. Alan Freeman said Monday, pointing out that no advance registration is required — with participants needing only to show up Saturday at the police station on Rockford Street.
Although last month’s shooting in Texas remains fresh in the public’s mind, this is not the first time city police have addressed church security through a formal class.
“We had one last year, I think,” Freeman said.
“In the past few weeks, Lt. Westmoreland has been requested to conduct the Safe Sanctuaries classes to some local churches in light of the tragedy in Texas.”
Freeman, a longtime member of the city police force, can recall some situations over the years in which local ministers have contacted officers over concerns about certain individuals causing problems at churches. But no shootings or similar acts have occurred.
“A lot of them don’t think it’s going to happen,” the police official said of church members. “But you look at what happened at the church in Texas,” where people thought the same thing.
There is no longer a question about “why” churches should step up security in response to such violence — “that’s kind of irrelevant now,” Freeman said.
“It’s how we do it,” he added.
Although Lt. Westmoreland will explore ways for churches to enhance security measures in-depth during Saturday’s two-hour class, Freeman said it boils down to one basic concept:
Avoiding a state of complacency that can have horrific consequences if a congregation is targeted.
“You need to be on your toes and be observant,” he said of a simple rule of thumb for church leaders.
Anyone interested in participating who desires more information about the class can call Freeman at 336-786-3550.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.