Augusta, GA – CSRA churches discussed safety measures at their own churches after looking deeper into the killings in Charleston.
News Channel 6’s Renetta DuBose had a very real conversation with local pastors in Augusta’s Interfaith Coalition about security at their churches and whether they believe carrying a weapon into the pulpit is something that is needed to keep their churches safe.
The Coalition held a press conference at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Crawford Ave. in Augusta. The group is calling for prayer and enacting a city and county-wide prayer vigil for 24 hours.
The group’s executive director, Rev. Christopher Johnson, said, “We recognize the sanctity of the nine lives taken by senseless and cruel violence.”
The members were all touched by the tragedy in Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel AME Church. The church killings raised security questions for not just the Coalition, but other local men and women of faith.
Bethel AME Pastor, Rev. Mark Pierson told the group black churches have historically had challenges.
“We as black Americans and we as black Christians we have double jeopardy,” he said. “Not only do we have to deal with attacks from foreign soil and persons who are from foreign soil, but we have to deal with Americans who are very vicious and who are hateful and evil and who will practice hate crimes on other Americans and on black Americans.”
Rev. Pierson has been improving security at his own church for the last decade. He’s hired security for just about every time church doors are open, challenged his congregation to be more observant, especially in the parking lot and added security cameras.
Trinity CME pastor Herman “Skip” Mason just added cameras inside his church the same day the Charleston shooting happened. He and other pastors are hoping people just worship freely.
“We want to leave our doors open so that people can come in off the street who want and need to hear the word,” Pastor Mason said. “From what I heard he had been there for about an hour. Their doors were open as they should be open.”
Pastor Mason also said he has security cameras outside of his church and does not allow weapons.
Most of the pastors we spoke with don’t carry guns to church and they don’t plan to, including Pastors Pierson and Mason. Some even have signs on their doors warning members not to carry, despite recent gun laws that allow them to do so.
Oasis of Blessings Christian Center Pastor Angel Maestre does not have a sign, but wants one. He too has security cameras as his church began stepping up security measures more than a year ago.
Unitarian Universalist Church Minister, Rev. Gaye Ortiz does not allow weapons. She has also stepped up security measures at her church. Ortiz concluded the press conference with a moment of silence and prayer.
“We believe in love and we look forward to a day when we can worship together in peace,” she said
Rev. Pierson drew a connection between his church and the site of the deadly shooting. He told News Channel 6 that in 1865, people traveled from Mother Emmanuel AME to Augusta, specifically to usher Bethel into the AME denomination. That was right after the Civil War.
Another connection is that Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor killed at Emmanuel was married at Bethel AME several years ago.
Pinckney, who is also a South Carolina State Senator covering the Allendale area, has family still at Bethel. Rev. Pierson said he would often return to Bethel to perform baptisms.