EDITOR'S NOTE: In the wake of the Las Vegas Massacre, and church shootings almost too numerous to count, houses of worship in Northeast Mississippi are sharpening their security and safety efforts. In this Mike Files report, WTVA’s Mike Russell introduces us to a man who’s made it his mission to help keep the flock safe.
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - The American and Christian flags flying at Hope Church Tupelo are half-staff in honor of those who died in Las Vegas. Here, church leaders are mindful of their commitment to keep their members safe.
Those are the unsettling words of Steve Carter, a church security expert. He's at Hope Church, doing a security walk-through with church leaders. The "crow's news," as he puts it, is the upstairs room where graphics and videos run - a spiritual "projection booth," if you will. Walking the church campus with lead pastor Scooter Noland and administrative pastor Jim Nielsen, they amble down the church's wide hallways, stopping at the bathrooms. Carter points to them.
"If you've got somebody hiding and they're waiting for a child to come in, you need to be aware of that." The two pastors agree readily.
Later, we chat with Hope's security team leader. For tactical reasons, we can't use his real name. We'll call him "Bob."
"Churches used to not even lock their doors," says Bob. "People automatically felt safe. But the way society's changed, now that's so - and we have to be prepared. We want to be offensive instead of defensive."
That's why Carter is here, a man who trains church teams to confront even the most dire threats. Ultimately, Steve says, the mission of church security is to protect the flock without being noticed.
"Church security's different from anything else because you have so many innocent people around," he says, adding that just having team members packing heat is not enough.
"We've gone to great lengths to be prepared,' says Nielsen. "We're not just a bunch of guys walkin' around watching, we are well-trained."
Which is why Hope's team, and many like it do what they have to so to stay sharp.
Ultimately, if someone intending to do harm reaches Hope's worship center, they'll have penetrated at least two other layers of security. Leaders pray that never happens, knowing they’ve been good shepherds of the resources God’s given to them to protect His children.