BLUEFIELD — With an uptick in violence and tragedies in churches across America, more places of worship in the region are designating safety teams to stand guard during service times.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, there was a record of 41 mass shooting incidents in the United States in 2019. With the threat of an assailant attacking at any given time, area churches, parishes, synagogues and more are relying on safety teams.
These teams often include men and women who are trained and licensed in firearm carry and use. While church members and leaders expect the worst they certainly hope for the best.
With the United States making up 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings, according to the Business Insider website, church members and leaders are seeking to reduce their risks of victimization by arming their safety teams.
With hundreds of members that attend faithfully, Cornerstone Family Church in Princeton has worked to create an organized safety team.
“We have a safety team because we’re located so close to a main road. It’s to give people peace of mind,” Cornerstone Family Church Pastor Scott Catron said.
In children alone, the church sees hundreds each Sunday. To ensure that the children, teens and adults can safely worship, Catron and his team seek to continually provide a secure environment.
“You’ve got to protect your flock,” Catron said, referencing to how the Bible refers to the church congregation as a flock of sheep with the pastors as the shepherd.
Though places of worship continually remind members to eagerly follow the rules of God, they also remind the congregation that they are still under the rules of man as well. With issues such as destruction and vandalism, safety teams give the leaders peace of mind if they are faced with these issues.
“While you want people to have fellowship and communion you do have to be careful this day and time because not everyone shares your same concerns,” Father Michael Foster, of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Bluefield, said.
Foster said that for members of his congregation to worship freely, a sense of security must be in place. While doors are open wide to welcome all that wish to worship, a watchful eye also is always in place.
“We are still beholden to the laws for ourselves and our property. We can’t let people just run over us,” Foster said.
Not only do these designated teams act as a safeguard for the leaders of the churches, parishes and synagogues but it also lets the members know that they’re being looked after. Instead of a business atmosphere, these places of worship are a safe place where worshipers can fellowship with people of their faith.
A local synagogue member, Norris Kantor, believes that to ensure worshipers’ safety, there should be a safety team in place.
To aid in proper safety instruction, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office in Tazewell, Va., has taught courses for church safety.
“It’s unfortunate that the time we live in today that we need this,” Lt. J. Hankins of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office said. According to Hankins, many church members in the area have taken the course.
According to Hankins, the population of a city doesn’t determine where the next tragedy will strike. Whether a city like Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, according to the Census website, or a town as small as Tazewell, the possibility for an attack is unfortunately always there.
“We think it’s important that where people worship or go to school that they are protected,” Hankins said.
Contact Emily D. Coppola at firstname.lastname@example.org