By Ashli Sims, The News On 6
CLAREMORE, OK -- Church leaders gathered in Claremore Saturday to learn how to better protect the pulpit.
Law enforcement says church violence jumped more than 200 percent last year. So, they're arming congregations with the knowledge to make sure their Sunday morning is a safe one.
"Typically, churches have always been a place of safe haven and so we haven't been as security conscious in churches. But times have changed," said Captain Charles Downum, Claremore Police.
Captain Downum shows church leaders a video to underline the point: in 2005, the late Reverend Billy Joe Daugherty was punched twice during a prayer at the altar.
"Very shocking, but because it's happening, we need to be sure that we know how to handle it," said Pastor Paul Simpson, Memorial Heights Baptist Church.
That's why Pastor Simpson offered his church as a host for Captain Downum's workshop. It's designed specifically for churches, teaching them to make security plans and identify threats.
Captain Downum says the two most common areas for acts of violence are in the worship area and in the nursery or children's area, where churches could have to deal with domestic violence issues.
"With the pressing threat of violence and things occurring in church, it's important to be aware of what can happen and how to prepare yourself for it," said Vincent Montalbano, Full Gospel Lighthouse Church.
Downum preaches what he calls aggressive friendliness.
"Greeting them, helping them out, directing them where they may need to go. Finding out why they're there. They may be there for good reasons," said Captain Downum.
But for some, beefing up Sunday morning security is a tough sell.
"I think there are some. We've had some in my own congregation that, 'we don't need this. Why do we need this? This is a house of worship. God protects.' God does protect. But he also gives us the tools to protect and this is one of those tools," said Pastor Simpson.