Reverend Steven Marsh never imagined that he would see the day when his church in Laguna Woods – a Californian city of 16,500 inhabitants, mostly retirees – I would spend $20,000 a month on security measures.
“We do not want to militarize the church, but we prayed and made the decision that security guards had to be hired in an act of faith”
Until an individual opened fire on May 15 at a luncheon at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, where Marsh is the lead pastor, killing one person and injuring five members of a Taiwanese congregation that had gathered there. Authorities say the attacker, who hated Taiwanese for political reasons, had chained the church doors shut and thrown firebombs before shooting during a gathering of elderly worshipers.
Religious temples are places where people seek shelter, reflection and peace, where everyone is welcome.
A series of shootings in crowded places, however, is a reminder that violence can happen anywhere in the United States and prompted numerous religious leaders to take security measures.
At the Geneva Presbyterian Church there are now armed guards every day. Cameras are being installed and a plan is being prepared with what to do if someone starts shooting. Funds were also requested from the Department of Homeland Security.
“We don’t want to militarize the church,” Marsh said. (But) “We prayed and made the decision that security guards had to be hired on a leap of faith.”
“When you can’t run away or find a place to hide, you must find a way to act, to resist”
Marsh predicted that if security measures are not taken, the faithful would have stopped coming to the church and then the schools that operate on the church campus would stay students because of the shooting.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, former spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, said that it is possible to create safe and at the same time pleasant spaces.
In January, he and three other people were taken hostage by an armed individual during a Sabbat service. Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the individual in a courageous gesture that allowed everyone to escape, after an 11-hour impasse. He attributes his reaction to various workshops he took on how to respond in situations like this.
“When you can’t run away or find a place to hide, you have to find a way to act, to resist,” said Cytron-Walker. “We all thought this person was going to kill us, but the moment he had been waiting for all day came.”
Cytron-Walker now heads Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is currently preparing a security plan for his new congregation.n, aware that the reception that a synagogue gives to the faithful can reinforce security, “because someone who wants to cause damage will realize that he will not be able to go unnoticed”.
The shrines have historically been vulnerable to violent attacks in the United States, including bombings of African-American churches during the civil rights battles of the 1950s and ’60s to more recent shootings at Sikh mosques and gurdwaras. FBI statistics reveal that in the United States attacks on churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased by 34.8% between 2014 and 2018.
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