Churches need to be aware in the 'new reality'

Church Shooting Texas
Law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing and wounding many. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 9, 2017 8:20 am

QUINCY -- The most recent mass shooting at a U.S. church didn't go unnoticed by Quincy-area pastors.

"When I get up to preach, I'm not worried, but that does not mean we should not do our due diligence," said the Rev. Jerry Harris, senior pastor at the Crossing, the largest church in the region.

Harris said the Crossing has an established protocol for security and safety at the church's site at 48th and Maine and at its eight other satellite campuses spread across West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and southeast Iowa.

Harris said the Crossing began initiating security procedures almost a decade ago after a church shooting in the Metro East area, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

The Crossing's weekend services attract an average of 2,500 worshippers at 48th and Maine, plus 7,500 more at its other sites. That does not include a weekly average of 2,600 online viewers.

“We realized we're the largest church in about a two-hour radius, and if someone wanted to do something, (the Crossing) might be their play,” Harris said.

All nine Crossing church sites have their own security teams and specialized plans for protecting congregation members.

Harris thinks mass shootings like Sunday's tragedy at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 people dead are a reflection of a deteriorating world.

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had a turbulent and violent past that included a court-martial while serving in the Air Force on charges that he assaulted his then-wife and hit her child hard enough to fracture the boy's skull.

“It's not just a church thing. It's society,” he said. “There has been a de-evolution of society that is now requiring a different set of rules. The church needs to (be aware), like everyone else. It's a reality in our culture.”

The Rev. Orville Jones, longtime pastor at First Baptist Church, 739 N. Eighth, echoes the Harris' thoughts.

“People come to church looking for peace, healing and help, but even here in Quincy — what we consider a safe place — there might be a false sense of security,” Jones said. “There are dangers present (everywhere). This is the society that we live in.”

Jones emphasizes that he isn't worried about going to church.

“I do not live in fear,” he said. “I live knowing the peace of God is with me whatever comes my way.”

The Rev. Gayle Pope of Christ Lutheran, 333 S. 36th, admits she worries that a scene like Sutherland Springs could unfold in Quincy.

“I think about what would happen if it happened (at Christ Lutheran),” she said. “We have talked about situations like that, but we have not done much about it.”

Pope said that it's important to not become “numb” to these kind of attacks and that each Christian should remain focused on trying “to make a change.”

Pope thought the 2015 shooting that killed nine in a Charleston, S.C., church proved to be an eye-opener for many. She thinks that since that tragedy there has been more awareness. A church service in Quincy shortly after the Charleston shootings drew pastors and churchgoers from multiple denominations to a gathering at Madison Park Christian Church.

Pope also thinks it might be time for churches in general to become mental health advocates because many of these shootings have been linked to mental illness.

The Associated Press contributed some information for this story.