The unfortunate reality of the murder of Rev. Fred Winters at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., Sunday is that it could happen pretty much anywhere.
Churches are by design made to be open and welcoming places. I’ve been taught many times that God calls us to Him, wanting us to follow the direction He has laid out for our lives and to set away some of ourselves.
In that same spirit, most churches I’ve been to embody that. Visitors are welcomed with a handshake, given a bulletin, told to enjoy the service and perhaps asked if there any questions.
That is the way it needs to be.
There is a completely understandable, normal reaction to view the tragedy in suburban St. Louis as a grave warning about how poor–or, frankly, non-existent–security measures are in most churches. By the same token, I’ll be rather surprised if we see a growing trend of churches locking their doors once services begin.
The gunman, Terry Sedlacek, was identified in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a man with mental illness brought on by Lyme disease. He apparently came down the center aisle of the church and shot Winters as he was beginning his sermon. Parishioners said he was nondescript, in other words, just like anybody else who you would see every Sunday sliding into a back pew or seat when arriving a few minutes late.
Could a simple measure such as assigning an usher to stay by the entrance during the service prevented this? Possibly.
Installing security cameras as a deterrent? Maybe.
There certainly are other measures that will be suggested in the days and weeks to come which churches could institute to make their facilities safer.
However, we remain accustomed even in this post-Sept. 11 world to having pretty free and open access to large institutions. In recent years, shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois universities come to mind. Changes have taken place on those and other campuses, but for the most part anyone could enter a lecture hall or classroom on most campuses with hardly a second glance.
Some of the reactions I’ve read so far from Maryville seem to be level-headed. This will be overcome. Prayers–necessary prayers–will be given. Changes to some degree may be made.
Ultimately, though, the church needs to remain an open and welcoming place for regulars and visitors alike.