Houses of Worship Struggle to Balance Security and Belief in Wake of Violence

  • 2020-02-12
  • NPR

It's hard to tell who has a gun at Fellowship of Wildwood church.

Nicknamed the "sheepdog ministry," the group of about a dozen volunteers provide armed protection for congregants at the Baptist church west of St. Louis.

Attacks on houses of worship in recent years have left congregations grappling with how to respond. Some have hired armed guards or trained members to carry weapons, but others have resisted the idea of allowing guns inside houses of worship.

In the past two years, gunmen have attacked worshippers in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, where a man stormed a synagogue and killed 11 people, and Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people were killed during services at a Baptist church.

Leaders at Fellowship of Wildwood would prefer not to have guns in the sanctuary, said Bowman, but they felt they had no other option. Per Missouri law, only congregants with explicit permission from the church can carry concealed weapons.

Members went through active shooter training and worked with the local police department to assess their facility for possible security risks. They also hired armed guards, which Smason compared to "having a lock on your front door."

2018, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders led by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson spoke out against a Missouri house bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons into houses of worship without permission from clergy.