Pastors and churchgoers from around Alachua County gathered yesterday to learn how they can keep their churches and congregations safe in the face of violence.
The three-hour presentation organized by the North Central Florida Baptist Association followed the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas Sunday, where a gunman opened fire in a church killing 26 and wounding 20 including newborn babies, pregnant mothers and grandparents.
“It’s Satan attacking us,” said Stacy Ettel, a former University of Florida Police Department Lieutenant, who presented to a group of about 65 people at North Central Baptist Church. “Our job is to fight back for what we believe in…we don’t let evil win in this country.”
Ettel has done police work for about 23 years and has been teaching active shooter response for about 15 years, he said.
Ettel made many recommendations to those in attendance including maintaining a church security team, securing entrances and exits and learning how to disable a shooter’s firearm.
“This has been an issue for a long time. Faith-based organizations are getting attacked,” he said. “We can’t stand by and wait… we have got to take action.”
Ettel also emphasized that Christians have a duty to put others life before their own. He urged churchgoers to try to stop a threat in order to save others.
Steven Williams, church and community missions director for the Baptist Association and deacon for North Central Baptist Church, said this event was scheduled a year in advance and they anticipated only about 20 people to attend.
Williams said he has taken steps to make his church more secure, but was able to garner a better idea from the presentation today about handling threatening issues within the church.
“You have these crazy people who think [churches] are an easy target, and we just have to make sure that we’re not,” he said. “We want to be able to have our members, our congregation, come to church and know that they’re going to be safe.”
Williams said the Association intends to continue teaching other churches about security and help them develop their own security plans.
Donna Jordan, who attends North Central Baptist Church, said “People come to a church for worship time, for peaceful time. They come to have an environment where [they] feel safe… I would hate to think that I went to an environment where I would have to be looking behind my back all the time wondering if there is a bad guy in the house.”
Jordan said it is important that churches take initiative to be more protective of their attendees, while remaining open-minded and accepting of new members.
Jeffrey Haglund, strategist for the Baptist Association, said “We believe that Jesus and God [have] got this under control. The biggest problem is there’s evil out there and we need to not be afraid of it, but be prepared.”
Haglund said their role is not to hurt anyone, but to protect those they are with in worship. He took away from the presentation that their job is to engage the individual by grabbing the weapon or distracting the shooter, rather than hiding.
“As Americans, I feel like I am willing to sacrifice because I am going to heaven,” he said. “I’m not worried about that, but I am excited to be able to take care of other people.”