Church safety and security was the focus of an all-day seminar at Bethel Baptist Church in Cherry Hill on Oct. 10.
Developed by current and former members of law enforcement, and presented by Shepherd’s Watch Safe and Secure Church Training, the gathering was intended for church security teams and leaders who wish to develop and improve in keeping their flocks free from harm.
“As incidents of violence in our churches continue to increase, people expect that their church leaders are taking steps to ensure their safety. Shepherd’s Watch is responding to that expectation by offering best practices in safety and security that are also compassionate and ministry-focused,” said Craig Cable, church security expert and co-developer of the training.
Peter Harper, on behalf of Shepherd’s Watch, presided over the day’s events while Associate Pastor for Bethel, Brady Cortner, assisted with live demonstrations in a variety of locations on Bethel’s campus along Springdale Road. More than three dozen concerned citizens, mostly from the tri-state area, were in attendance.
“We’re here to help those in the religious community with their questions and try to offer solutions to their questions about various facets of safety and security,” he explained.
Among the topics discussed were: adjusting one’s approach to security as ministry rather than threat neutralization; assessment of liabilities and risks and learning ways to mitigate them; how to build support among church leadership and how to form a security team; and de-escalation exercises and best practices for ongoing training opportunities for security team members.
Rather than focusing on a single threat, the seminar addressed all risks churches are most likely to face, such as domestic issues, medical issues, lost children, or dealing with someone who has mental health or substance issues.
And how is that best handled? Through hands-on learning via live scenarios and role-playing exercises.
In one of the most alarming demos of the afternoon, all were witness to a group of five individuals playing out an active-shooter situation within Bethel’s sanctuary, with one actor pretending to shoot celebrants while another intruder crept undetected onto the stage to “accost” Cortner.
What followed was a question-and-answer session, where Harper and others engaged in a conversation about how the scene could have played out differently for all involved.
“I wasn’t really prepared (for the role playing) but it is, at the same time frightening but necessary to think about,” Cortner said after the exercise ended.
Cable lamented the last several years which has seen an increase in the number of mass casualty incidents in public places. As more of these incidents occur, he related, people have grown in their awareness of their vulnerability and are beginning to demand that measures are enacted to help protect them and their families.
Regarding the potential for security or churchgoers being able to carry firearms, Harper cautioned that all parties involved had to clearly express concerns and desires while also paying close attention to state laws and statutes governing guns in a place of worship and also the rules of engagement for holy spaces.
“Not only are we wanting to make sure we’re communicating the right things internally, but also we want to be in good standings with our communities. To say ‘we take this seriously, we value this, we honor our law enforcement, we recognize the standard,’” he said.
When it comes to protecting our houses of worship, the challenge comes when trying to balance the mission and ministry of a particular church. For the sake of heightened security, if we turn our houses of worship into an experience like trying to get through the TSA, we will cease to “be” the church, according to Cable.