One of the sessions in last week’s CEO Summit was titled “It Could All Change in an Instant.” James Li was the instructor. He is one of North America’s foremost experts on security at soft-target locations, particularly churches and ministry organizations.
James talked about security as ministry. The warrior wall builders in Nehemiah chapter 4 were referenced: “So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (Nehemiah 4:16, 17 NKJV).
James talked about the most common “weapons” domestic attackers use: knives, guns, and vehicles. He told the group how quickly most attacks happen: 37 percent are over in two minutes or less, and 60 percent are over before police arrive. He covered the three responses when there is an active shooter—run, hide, fight—and when and how to do each. He explained the importance of building layered, pre-attack defensive strategies.
The tension our attendees expressed was in figuring out how to present an atmosphere of warm hospitality while keeping staff, clients, and guests safe. And then there was the concern about visible security being a trigger for some people who have had bad experiences with law enforcement. Judging by the questions asked and the straw polls taken, we (collectively) have a lot more work to do in completing practical security plans at member organizations.
But we live in perilous times, and such plans should not be delayed.
The CEO Summit ended on Thursday at noon. On Thursday night, I received word from Tracy Gorman, CEO at Evansville Rescue Mission (ERM) in Indiana, that there was a shooting at a small, faith-focused men’s shelter just across the Ohio River from him in Henderson, Kentucky. Harbor House is not a Citygate Network member, but that doesn’t make what happened there any less tragic. A man who had been a resident for about a year but was preparing to move on in life became very agitated and disruptive during the evening chapel service. Staff tried to deal with him, but to no avail. As chapel was ending, he apparently went to his car and produced a handgun. He allegedly returned to the shelter, entering through a back door, and started shooting. Two residents were killed and four were wounded. Tracy let me know that one of the men who was killed had recently been staying at ERM. The ERM staff is reaching out to Harbor House to comfort and assist.
I’ve already spoken to James Li about this incident and the need for Citygate Network members to become more dialed in to layered, pre-attack defensive strategies. We are looking at an association-wide webinar in October and a special arrangement for all members to have on-site or virtual security reviews. You’ll be hearing more in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, we need to get our heads around the idea that security is as much a ministry as hospitality. The times are telling us we need to stay as vigilant as Nehemiah’s workers were.