By Tamica Smith-Jeuitt, Senior Communications Specialist
The time is now for conversation around church violence and security according to risk management consultants for the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church. This fall, the group will lead church leaders in a discussion on the issue while offering advice on matters such as liability insurance. There are close to 1,100 churches that make up the Mississippi Conference which has no uniform policy in place that relates to violence and weapons.
"We think it would be a good idea to have a written plan in place and for members of the congregations to know how to react if a situation occurs. We are in the process of gathering information to consider implementing a program, or to develop a policy we can share with the Mississippi Conference or possibly other insurers," said Chris Brantley of Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services in Ridgeland, Mississippi. "We can't make our churches do it, so this is more here's some guidelines and we encourage you to adopt them."
In light of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 people dead, the federal government recently issued written guidelines for houses of worship advising adults in congregations to fight back--as a last resort--in an attempt to stop a shooter. The policy referred to as "run, hide or fight" is explained in approximately 40 pages. However, the message to protect Mississippi United Methodist congregations will likely be shorter.
"If we put something in place, it does not need to be 100 pages, it needs to be simple, it needs to be to the point and it needs to be user friendly," said Brantley. He also stated he was not aware of incidents involving threats of violence at Mississippi United Methodist institutions over the last decade.
Still, current media reports of violence at houses of worship in Mississippi make it hard for Rev. Dr. Embra Jackson to take the issue lightly. The Starkville District where Jackson is the superintendent has 106 churches. He was saddened to hear that one of the reported shootings at a church in Mississippi was fatal.
"The church is both a human and a spiritual institution and so those incidents remind me of our human trait. I believe in the long run the church will be okay. God will provide for us and we, the church, will have to be a little more proactive perhaps than we have been in the past about trying to come up with the appropriate responses," Jackson commented.
He has also reviewed the federal policy and worries people will misconstrue the rule. In his opinion, the federal guidelines should serve as a starting point for the Mississippi United Methodist Church dialog.
"This at least gives us a template. However, we will need help with interpreting. We have to be careful how we share this with our parishioners because some people may latch on to just one part of what they read," said Jackson.
The conference risk management is holding their meeting in the Starkville District at a location to be announced soon by Jackson's office. United Methodist clergy, pastors, laity and other key leadership will be invited to attend. The agenda will also address church break-ins.