Local churches are considering ways to keep worshippers safe while still remaining open to those in need following high-profile shootings, including at churches.
“It’s the world we live in,” said the Rev. Dr. Darren Bess, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg.
“We do have a plan here at the church. We’ve had kind of ongoing discussions about how to improve that plan and ways to make the campus safer,” he said.
Churches are looking at safety following a number of high-profile shootings. On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
A shooter walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 5, 2017 and killed 26.
The Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office will be discussing security at a forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at Roquemore Auditorium, Building R, at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
OSCO spokesman Richard Walker said the forum is needed in the wake of recent violent acts at places of worship.
“In light of crimes against churches across the nation, as well as crimes against the facilities, we want to be proactive and bring a level of preparedness to our church community,” Walker said.
Walker said an initial presentation discussed how people can protect themselves against potential violence. The same information will be shared at the upcoming forum.
“In the initial presentation, attendees were informed not only of the dangers that have occurred, but also of the means by which they can protect themselves, up to and including proactive training. We will present this again to parishioners and interested individuals in the Orangeburg area,” Walker said.
Area pastors said their churches have already taken some steps to become more secure against potential threats.
First Presbyterian has been discussing having an active shooter drill to test its existing safety procedures, Bess said.
The pastor declined to give specific details about the church’s security plan, but stressed that the church keeps an eye out for any ne'er-do-wells who may be seeking to do harm or disrupt things, be it a Sunday service or Wednesday night supper.
“Thank goodness we haven’t had anything happen. We have a tremendous amount of foot traffic through our campus just on a regular basis,” he said.
The Rev. Wesley A. Brown, pastor of the historic Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Ft. Motte, said his church has also had discussions about church safety.
“We already have cameras inside our church, but we’re also now in the process of trying to install cameras where we can see on the outside. You don’t get to the point that you’re so suspicious of people, but you just never know,” Brown said.
“Likewise, I also ask my deacons and the trustees to be vigilant when the doors are open of who’s coming in. If they sense someone that we don’t know – not saying we’re trying to make them feel uncomfortable – they might just go and talk and find out who they are and where they’re visiting from just to make sure,” Brown said. “You never know who’s coming into your church nowadays.”
He said the church is still putting it’s faith in God, “because no weapon that is formed against us shall prosper.
“But then he also said you must watch and pray, so we remember that, too.”
Brown said the Emanuel AME Church shooting actually helped bring races and churches from various denominations together in the Ft. Motte area.
“On the first Wednesday, we have what you call intercessory prayer. We come together and pray because we’re trying to break the barriers of race and let everybody know it’s only one God. That has really been a blessing for the Ft. Motte community,” he said.
Bess said there is still a focus on having the church be a place where people can seek help and refuge.
“We still believe we should be the church. We have people who stop by who need help from time to time. We still want to be the church amid all the necessary preparations that we have to have in place,” he said.
Walker said he hopes the security forum will benefit the church community amid those preparations.
“What we hope they take away from these presentations is a direct way to not only protect themselves, but their church property as well. If the plans are not precisely for their church group, then we’re hoping their church can use the material to formulate their own emergency plan that is adapted from the material presented in order to protect life and property,” he said.