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Churches offered free lesson on how to respond to an ‘active shooter’ situation

  • A memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church includes 26 white chairs, each painted with a cross and rose, is displayed in the church Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community last week, killing more than two dozen. AP file



Monitor staff
Thursday, November 30, 2017

In what might be considered a sign of the times – and a depressing sign, at that – New Hampshire houses of worship have been invited to a free session that will teach them what to do if they are attacked by a gunman during services.

“It’s unfortunate that we should have to teach this at churches, at schools, but the fact is that we do,” said Terry Choate, a former Jaffrey Police Department lieutenant who is president of Blue-U, the company that will run the training. “We have to look at things in reality.”

That company will hold “Active Shooter Response Training for Congregations & Clergy” on Saturday at Heritage Baptist Church in Nashua, sponsored by the New Hampshire Council of Churches.

“I believe in safety,” said the Rev. Larry Hileman of Heritage Baptist Church. “We have fire drills, we have training for any scenario. Like storm watch: If a storm comes in, what do we do?”

“Obviously we would hope that nothing would ever happen,” he continued. “Nevertheless, preparedness and training for any kind of situation is important. ... How should we respond? What do we do that would minimize the danger, the loss of life?”

“Unfortunately, attacks on houses of worship happen. It is just awful. Nevertheless, you still need to be prepared,” he said.

The session, slated to run from 9 to 11 a.m., is free but advanced registration is necessary.

Blue-U approached the New Hampshire Council of Churches and offered the free lessons after the Nov. 5 attack on a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 people and wounded 20 more.

Choate said that churches are even more difficult to defend against an active shooter than schools, since they don’t want to be locked down.

“It’s an open, welcoming environment – we want people to come in, people to join in, to be there – and that open, welcoming environment creates a trade-off with safety,” he said.

The Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, agreed.

“Nobody argues that we should put the equivalent of metal detectors, or an air marshal, into our worship,” he said. “The church needs to be a place that is safe and open for everyone, and it does not sit right in the gut that we make our faith communities into fortresses.”

With that in mind, Choate said much of Blue-U’s lesson can be applied to any place.

“The primary part of our program is applicable even down to an individual, a family, a home,” Choate said. “We help people to completely understand how the bad guy is thinking, what’s happening to the bad guy, and how we can use our knowledge to be more safe.”

“We are not asking people to rebuild the church, redesign the church. The issue is how do we make best use of those assets? ... We want the entire congregation to be acting as security,” he said.

Blue-U’s lessons do not include the so-called “good guy with a gun” scenario, in which an armed congregation could fight back against a shooter.

“We’re not against guns in church, but what we teach assumes there will not be any,” he said.

One problem with encouraging guns in church is that it can create a liability, he said.

“Once you endorse carry in your church, you become responsible, ... It’s not just can that person shoot a hole in a target, it’s the decisions that are made,” he said.

Hileman said he has no idea which members, if any, of his congregation can legally carry concealed weapons and said Heritage Baptist neither encourages nor discourages guns.

“I don’t even know a church that has a policy about that,” he said.

Wells said the training was part of churches’ long-running efforts to incorporate a violent world inside places designed to promote peace.

“The conversation about guns in congregations has been going on for quite some time,” he noted.

The sessions are open to all types of churches and to non-Christian denominations, Wells said.

For information or to RSVP, go to the website of the New Hampshire Council of Churches at nhchurches.org .

Hileman’s son, Joe, is a former police officer and co-founder of Blue-U.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)