DEXTER, MO (KFVS) - The Missouri State Highway Patrol targets church safety in a new program offered to congregations across the state.
"Unfortunately, it (church) used to be a safe haven," said Sergeant Dale Moreland. "That's not necessarily the case now."
Moreland says the new program lays out guidelines for securing buildings, and having church members prepared to handle intruders.
"They probably need to get someone trained in some hand-to-hand combat or get trained on the use of mace," Moreland said. "And, certainly have a phone that works, a cell phone, a cordless phone, something where they can call 911."
Moreland showed me the extensive security measures taken at his church, First Baptist in Dexter, where he leads a seven-member security team.
"We walk through the entire building, checking all doors, all windows, all classrooms," Moreland said.
"One of our denomination's pastors in the St. Louis area was shot and killed recently, so that's on everybody's mind," said Senior Pastor Steve Easterwood.
Easterwood came to First Baptist two years ago, as Moreland and other members were getting that security team off the ground. Both men say the timing couldn't have been better, with improvements to the church bringing in more expensive equipment.
"It's always a balance because you want to be open, you want to be welcoming to people, but you know there are people out there who would take from us or prevent us from doing our ministry," said Pastor Easterwood.
"Every Sunday morning there's a complete walk through of the building," Moreland explained. "Certain doors are locked. Some are left open. The front door is left open. You can't lock people out of church. You have to make it safe, but you limit the number of doors that are open."
The team's updated locks, changed doors, secured crawl spaces and closets. But, there's an even higher level of protection, provided by Moreland and the three other troopers who attend this church.
"Those that are active members or retired do carry their duty weapons, just in case," Moreland said. "Somebody comes in with a gun, we"re going to be prepared to do what we need to do."
"So, each Sunday, you're up there singing with the choir, you've got your gun on your side?" I asked. "Yes, I do," he responded.
Pastor Easterwood brings his own measure of security each Sunday.
"I'm a second-degree black belt, " Pastor Easterwood tells me with a smile. But, it's clear both men share the same, serious goal.
"We want to provide a safe place, especially for the children, and so that gives us added confidence, that we are secure and that everybody's going to arrive and be able to worship and go home safe," Pastor Easterwood said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol will host a church security seminar at Cape La Croix Church in Cape Girardeau on May 6, 2010 from 6:30-9:00 p.m. For more information on this seminar, and the church security program, contact Sgt. Dale Moreland at 573-840-9508 ext. 221.