COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – Since the Charleston massacre, congregations all over the south have been on edge.
How are local churches changing their security?
The massacre at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina back in June brought not only shock and grief, but also concern about the safety of churches.
Throughout history churches, especially African American churches, have been the targets of violence.
People attending bible study and choir rehearsal this week at Fourth Street Baptist Church in Columbus were welcoming and upbeat.
But behind the scenes watchful eyes are on alert as part of beefed up security in the wake of the Charleston shootings.
Sixteen cameras record the comings and goings all across Fourth Street's campus which includes two sanctuaries, several parking lots and more than 15 hundred active members.
Horace Rivers, a retired Army sergeant, heads up the security ministry. He says security starts before anyone even walks into the building.
"If you can deter it outside you can identify a lot of people outside before they get into the congregation," said Rivers.
There's no question the Charleston church shooting changed congregations across the country.
Even now, five months later churches like Fourth Street are working to make sure their buildings are indeed safe havens for anyone who walks through their doors.
"Although we believe God is sovereign, we believe that God protects, we believe that we're in the safety of God's arms, but I think that there's a reality and a practicality in terms of the society in which we live that we're not so spiritually minded that we are no earthly good," said Reverend Johnnie Flakes, III, the church's pastor the
Flakes says the tragedy didn't stop people from coming to church but some did feel less secure.
"When you begin to hear people discuss possibilities and asking questions, what are we doing. I think that in its own subtle way, tends to reflect the possibility that there's possible fear there," Flakes said.
Flakes says change has come to the church but he doesn't believe one man's violent act took anything away from the church's mission or message.
If anything, he says the tragedy makes him more aware of the need to be closer and stronger in faith, and to never give up on what the church represents.
In the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman has been touring churches across the Valley.
He's been teaching pastors and worshipers about ways to help keep themselves and their houses of faith safe. He recommends churches form a security team to ward off anyone plotting against a church, be it a simple burglary or a heinous rampage.
Countryman recommends basic security like an alarm and camera system, parking patrol, and communication system. If you'd like more safety information contact the Marshal's Office at (706) 225-4385.
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