By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Yukon pastors are revaluating the need for safety protocols in light of the mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church.
Police Chief John Corn said he was contacted by a church concerned about safety after the massacre.
“The incident did prompt a church to call us about hiring off-duty officers,” he said. Corn said some churches hire a fully staffed security detail, but not many of them do.
For Pastor Ray Rhoton of Bethel Community Church, 4901 N. Sara Road, violence in church is nothing new. He and his wife Kristi were missionaries in South America where they experienced being held at gunpoint and robbed during services.
“Two years ago, when I came here I started implementing safety protocols from the kids’ classes all the way up to the adults,” Rhoton said. “About that same time, we hired a Yukon police officer. So, they have a car here in the parking lot, we have security indoors and keeping an eye outside.”
He and members of his staff who are part of an awareness team met Monday night after the Texas slayings.
“It’s an informal team,” he said. “We know people have concealed carry (permit), but we don’t necessarily know who they are. Is it where we need to be? No, we can do a lot better.”
The meeting Monday night determined areas of safety concern they plan to address with action.
“We found a few holes that need to be filled in, and we’ll be strengthening things up more,” he said. Twenty men in the church have signed up for a meeting to explore how they can help make the church safer.
Pastors are hoping a stronger security presence doesn’t prevent people who need help from coming to church. Rhoton explained some people may feel threatened by additional police officers at the church.
“Everything we’ve studied and read shows that having an officer is a big deterrent,” Rhoton said. “But as a church we are also a place that is to serve those in need…sometimes it’s a deterrent for people to come in,” he said.
Pastor Greg Tolle of First United Methodist Church, 400 Elm Street, said he is torn in this new age of violence, where not even churches are above being a target.
“Part of our marketing slogan is open doors. You want to be a place where people can come when they are seeking what the church offers for spiritual help and development, but Scripture has said to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. So, there is that call to be smart and accessible, but to take care of safety and security to make sure when people do come, not only are they secure in the arms of God but secure (physically) as there are people who want do harm,” he said.
Tolle said his church has no formal security program in place, but Wednesday discussed with colleagues safety procedures to adopt.
Pastor Gary Reynolds of Yukon First Church of the Nazarene, 525 East Main Street, said one simple deterrent has served the congregation well.
“We have a pretty simple one. We have one entrance and it’s glass double doors that can see through to who’s coming in,” he said. “We have men who stay where they can see those doors during the worship hour and their purpose is if they would see someone coming that they can greet them before they gain entrance to the building.”
One instance two years ago was especially “hair-raising.” Two men dressed in white robes pulled up to the glass doors and got out.
“When they saw the greeter come out, they turned around and got in the truck and left,” he said. “We try be alert and aware that we can restrict access to the building.”
Reynolds said there are a few congregants who have expressed concerns about safety.
“We have no such plans going forward to take any such action as to arming people in the congregation. We know there is one who has a license to carry and he usually keeps his pistol on him. Our hope is that we can head off anything that becomes a problem.”
Corn said he is available to discuss security procedures with Yukon churches. For example, Life Church has a staffed security detail, but Corn said every church has to decide what action to take.
“It really depends on what the church leadership feels comfortable with,” he said.