CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Church leaders have become cognizant that tragedy can happen even on holy ground. But pastors have been more focused on tightening security during public worship services when hundreds of people are in the sanctuary and a gunman can slip in.
Houses of Worship - in addition to active shooter training for staff - hire off-duty police or security guards or train church workers to monitor parking lots, lobbies, and other areas of church property and make sure doors are locked.
But what about during the week when there’s only one person or just a few people working inside churches?
“The truth of the matter is accessibility to the building is free and open to anyone and we’re going to do some examinations about that ourselves during the week” said Reverend Jonathan Blankenship.
Rev. Blankenship, the lead pastor at Laurel Baptist Church in Charlotte, says pastors have a mindset of open access to be able to help anyone.
He says it’s very common for strangers to come to church buildings during the week to ask for help.
“As pastors the last thing on our mind is that someone coming through that door needing help is going to have an ulterior motive,” said Rev Blankenship. “I think it’s the nature of what we do and there is faith to that.”
Some pastors at small and medium churches say they’re having to take precautions about letting strangers in the building during the week.
Many say they took note after a pastor at South End Presbyterian Church was attacked Wednesday afternoon after a man came to the church office to ask about Christianity.
The pastor invited the man to his office and the two had a conversation then prayed together. But the man, later identified as Michael Daniel Kelley, attacked and robbed the pastor as the two walked out of the office.
“I put myself in his shoes. I probably would have done the same thing,” said Pastor Vincent Riley. “It’s sad that someone would take advantage of the goodness of a pastor.”
Pastor Riley of Meeting Place Church in Charlotte says there’s one employee working at the church during the week but volunteers and deacons also stop by.
“Safety. Security. We’re here for assistance. We’re here to be a blessing to the community. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to serve our local community,” but Riley says employee well being also factors. ”It’s always a question of safety, security. We try to take every precaution. We have cameras up around our facility to make sure our employees who work here are safe. We can’t guarantee it but we try to secure our facility and to make sure no harm or danger come to our employees here.”
He says the cameras are monitored to see if anyone is outside the building but there’s no intercom system to talk with strangers at the door.
“If I’m here it’s a little more security. Being a former police officer I’m always prepared for situations,” said Pastor Riley. “If I’m not here – our secretary she meets a person on the other side of the door and she will decide not to let them in.”
Riley says the church has other security measures including “a really strict policy about letting people in when there’s no one there. If she’s there by herself or one of our other employees – then we’re cautious about who we let in. If they don’t have an appointment, if it’s a person who just walks in off the street then more than likely they will not get in.”
“It’s very sad that we’re living in this day and time where we have to wonder about that,” said Pastor Riley. “We’ve seen too many cases and we’ve seen too many incidents where we know unfortunately that we have to make safety first. Although we like to minister to everybody we recognize that not everybody has the most pure of intentions.”
“And that’s what make yourselves so vulnerable to what people could be doing when their motives are not genuine and sincere and how are we to determine which is and which isn’t,” said Rev Blankenship. “It’s a very difficult place.”
Blankenship says in light the attack on the pastor, he will likely institute some changes at his church, where the doors are unlocked while workers are there during the week.
“Especially for the safety of the staff ladies I have here when I’m out of town, I think we’ll put locks on the door during the week, intercom systems and stuff” he said.
Even as times are changing, Pastor Blankenship say churches still need to remember the foundation of their beliefs.
“We can take precautions but at the same time we have to trust God that he is control of all these things,” he said. “We can’t live in complete fear because we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re called to do and that is help people who are in need of help.”