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Services After Sutherland:  How Are Churches Changing?

Law enforcement officers gather in front of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after a fatal shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

By Sarah Naron
Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – Just over a week after 26-year-old New Braunfels resident Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs before being shot twice by church neighbor Stephen Willeford and found dead following a high-speed chase, churchgoers and leaders in the Houston County area are choosing to take precautions to protect themselves and their churches from harm.

When questioned about what changes are being made by his congregation in the aftermath of the shooting, Dr. Delmar White of Grapeland Baptist understandably declined to provide detailed information, but did allude to the fact that new measures to secure the church are being taken.

“We have a few possibilities,” said Dr. White. “We’ve taken a few steps to be conscious and secure.”

Dr. White also expressed his personal heartbreak about the tragedy which claimed the lives of 26 and left 20 more wounded.

“I was horrified,” he said of his reaction to the shooting. “Whether it’s in a church or Las Vegas, it’s always emotional to hear about. You wonder where you’re safe.”

Truman Cooper, head of the security department for First Baptist Church of Grapeland, stated that his church is making arrangements to protect itself as well.

“We do have a plan; we have a policy,” Cooper said. “We made it okay with the church and checked with the sheriff, and he made a few changes.”

Cooper added that all 23 members of the church possess the legally-required licensure to carry handguns and will be doing so going forward.

According to Reverend Jon Thornsbury, he and the congregation of Grapeland’s First United Methodist Church will also be adopting new security practices with the help of a local individual who has provided assistance to other congregations in the area.

“We keep our doors locked after the service starts,” explained Rev. Thornsbury. “We have people…not on patrol, but kind of watching (during the service).”

Rev. Thornsbury further divulged that several members of the congregation are retired law enforcement officials, who have provided additional suggestions on how to protect the church.

“A lot of our congregation is concerned because we’re on the loop; we’re out on (Highway) 19,” said Rev. Thornsbury. “We’re very visible.”

Members of other congregations in Houston County are harboring concerns of their own as they partake in services following the tragedy.

“When I first saw the news about it and how deadly it was, it made me absolutely sick and devastated,” said a Kennard resident who regularly attends services in Crockett. “ Church is a holy place. It’s the one place in the world you shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in and doing something like that.”

“This tragedy makes me look at everything differently, including going to church,” a Crockett resident and churchgoer stated. “I’ll be more focused on where the exit is if someone comes in and tries to harm us. If someone new is there, I’ll be questioning their reason for being there. Are they coming to worship, or do they have alternative reasons?”


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