Local Pastors React To Texas Church Shoootings

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
The deadly attack which took place at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, November 5, was the most deadly shooting at a church in recent years. At least 26 people died and 20 were wounded. It appeared the lone gunman was after his in-laws who attended the church.
Church shootings are particularly shocking because they happen in places that are supposed to be sanctuaries; where one can seek peace and love, and worship in freedom. Churches are expected to be the last place where violence takes place. Some local pastors have shared thoughts about the possibility that such an occurrence might happen here.
Reverend Drew Heurion, Assistant Pastor at Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Warsaw, said churches may need to think about security measures more now than in the past. But he said it is wise to plan for any type of emergency which could include a fire or bad weather.
“The first thing we should do is to pray for this and other churches because we believe we are one in Christ,” said Heurion. “We are like one body. If part of our body mourns it affects the whole body and we all mourn. The second thing is not to let fear paralyze us and keep us from gathering with fellow believers. We have internal security through Christ, though that doesn’t mean we can’t be hurt on the outside. But the internal security is the most important.”
Heurion said the third thing is we need to maintain perspective. According to statistics from the Gospel Coalition (for the period of the 1990s to the present), the chances of a church in the U.S. being attacked by a shooter is one in six million.
Reverend Tyler Poppen, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Cole Camp, said the latest news was the shooting in Texas was one person targeting one individual church member. He said this could happen anywhere.
“It is tough!” he said. “A church is a sanctuary, a place of safety where we receive what God gives us. These things do not surprise me. The church in America has had a good run. We had our heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. Jesus said in this world we are going to have trouble. Jesus said to ‘Take heart because I have overcome the world.’ When things like this happen, we strengthen people because we are going to keep on doing what we do. There will be no sentinel at the door.”
Poppen said that in the Lutheran Church, all of the churches have the same readings each Sunday, and on November 5th the (Bible) reading was from Matthew 5, The Sermon on the Mount. He said that Jesus told the crowd “Blessed are the peacemakers….rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven.”
“My response to this shooting is this,” said Poppen. “We will continue to be the Church -- a sanctuary. For those who do these terrible acts, Jesus forgives. I am not going to be carrying (a gun) anytime soon and I will not encourage anyone else to do so. We are continuing to be what we have been.”
Rev. Loren Whitsell of the First United Methodist Church of Warsaw said his first reaction to the shooting was that he was heartbroken.  “A sanctuary is a place of worship where people should feel safe,” Whitsell said.  “We recognize there is evil in this world, but when we come together in worship we expect to feel safe.”
“Scripture says that we shouldn’t live our lives in fear, but this brutal act is disturbing,” Whitsell said.
 “We of the Methodist Church will continue to open our doors to everyone,” Whitsell said.  “God’s grace is for everyone.  God did not cause this to happen but God gave us free will and so this man chose to do this evil act.”
Whitsell came to Warsaw from a large church near St. Louis where they had training sessions of what to do in case of a dangerous situation, however, Missouri excludes churches from the conceal and carry law.
“We pray for the people of this congregation and I especially pray for the pastor of the congregation who was absent on that particular Sunday,” Whitsell said.  “He not only lost members of his congregation but his daughter.”
Under Missouri Senate Bill 656, permit holders will not be authorized to carry in the following public buildings (but if they do it will not be a criminal offense): police departments, polling places, prisons, courthouses, government buildings, bars, airports, daycares, churches, sports arenas and hospitals. Under the new 2017 law, permitless carrying will continue to be illegal in these buildings. 
On Sunday, the New York Times put out a list of recent church shootings starting with the one in Texas. On September 24 of this year, a gunman carrying two pistols opened fire as Sunday services were ending at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee. He killed one person and wounded seven others. On June 17, 2015, nine people at a Bible Study at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot and killed. On May 31, 2009, in Wichita, Kansas, a gunman shot and killed an usher in the foyer of the Reformation Lutheran Church as he handed out church bulletins after services.
Other mass shootings have been reported in the news in recent years including those in schools. Some of these heinous acts are attributed to mental illness, but one report from www.berkeleywellness.com suggests that gun availability may be the problem.