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After a gunman tried to shoot him, this pastor wants to make his church safer. But ‘we don’t have the money,’ he says

By Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) — In the years Pastor Glenn Germany has been leading the small congregation at Jesus’ Dwelling Place, keeping the Pennsylvania church’s doors open has been a struggle.

Germany, a full-time bus driver and full-time pastor, knows how important this church is to its community. In addition to religious services, the church – in the North Braddock borough southeast of Pittsburgh – provides its primarily low and fixed-income congregants with housing advice, domestic violence and mental health awareness programs, and seminars on everything from improving health to credit scores.

To keep it all running, Germany and his family give more than $1,000 out of pocket every month. And now, it seems there’s another critical expense, though one this small church hardly could afford: security.

It’s been exactly two weeks since an armed intruder walked into Jesus’ Dwelling Place, pointed a gun at Germany’s head and pulled the trigger, the horrific scene captured via a livestream of the Sunday service. When the gunman tried to fire, though, his weapon jammed, giving the pastor and a cameraman enough time to rush and subdue the suspect until authorities came.

Police have not shared what may have motivated the gunman to target the pastor. Germany has said the shooter told him “spirits” got into his head.

Then less than a week later, parishioners in south Louisiana helped remove a 16-year-old boy who walked into a Catholic church armed with a gun. The two incidents came roughly three months after law enforcement killed a woman who opened fire inside Lakewood Church in Houston; a 57-year-old man and the shooter’s 7-year-old son were wounded.

Now, Germany wants to hire security experts to assess his church’s vulnerability and see how they can secure it. But in the two weeks since the thwarted attack, the church has only been able to raise just over $1,000 in donations, the pastor said. Experts told CNN safety additions such as vulnerability assessments, training, cameras and security personnel can cost several thousand dollars.

“It costs money to hire people, and we don’t have the money,” Germany said.

It’s a challenge for religious communities across the US as churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship face threats or come under attack in a nation with more guns than people and where shots often explode in places that should be safe. US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this month announced an additional $400 million in federal money to help boost security at places of worship.

Many places of worship have struggled to balance security while maintaining a warm, welcoming feeling for their attendees. And Germany’s challenges highlight just how much harder conversations around security can be for smaller congregations.

‘Nothing is sacred, secure or safe’

In San Antonio, the faithful at Pastor Kevin Nelson’s Calvary Baptist Church began new conversations around security after the attack on Lakewood Church, the megachurch of famed televangelist Joel Osteen.

Nelson’s church already has cameras and an alarm system – but those were primarily installed to thwart car break-ins, he said. Calvary Baptist, with roughly 300 regular service attendees, also enlists deacons and other church members who carry concealed weapons to monitor the single entrance it keeps open during services, Nelson said. And it hosts active shooter trainings led by the local sheriff’s office.

But now, all that doesn’t feel like enough.

“I don’t want our church to become almost like a bank, to where you pull up and you see the police, so I’m really wrestling,” Nelson, a former deputy with the sheriff’s department, told CNN. “But in the same sense, God’s people and God’s house have to be protected.”

Not too far away is an ever-persistent reminder of the threat: Calvary Baptist is just about a 40-minute drive from Sutherland Springs, where a shooter killed 26 people inside a community church in 2017. It remains the state’s deadliest mass shooting.

Nelson’s church is now considering hiring armed guards, he said. Its leaders are also looking into the federal grant money Schumer announced, though it is a new process requiring time and research, Nelson said. And since the Lakewood Church shooting, during which the attacker walked in with her young son and a rifle, churchgoers at Calvary Baptist have been instructed to be watchful of families entering services, he said.

“What we’re discovering,” Nelson said, “is nothing is sacred, secure or safe.”

Donell Trusty Jr., who provides security and firearms training for places of worship in Maryland through his company Trusty Training Solutions, has seen an uptick in phone calls from churches since the attempted shooting in Pennsylvania two weeks ago, he said.

Trusty, who is also an elder in his Baltimore church, said he also helps churches contract security officers. He also helps train church volunteers who are licensed to carry weapons in firearm safety, self-defense and situational awareness, he told CNN.

Typically, Trusty said, hiring security personnel can cost between $35 and $50 per person hourly. Training courses usually cost $250 to $300 per person, he said. To help out local congregations, Trusty’s company has begun offering free active shooter training to places of worship.

“It is our way of giving back to the local assemblies because it’s what’s needed,” he said. “We understand the financial crises of the pandemic, membership has been low in a lot of churches … (and) they don’t really have the finances to put out for some expensive training program.”

And active shooter training can help save lives.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker has credited his training in this arena for helping him make a daring escape in 2022 after a hostage-taker joined a worship service at Congregation Beth Israel in Texas. As the attack approached its 11th hour, the rabbi spotted a key moment when the gunman’s guard was down – just as he had learned in training – and told others to run, then grabbed a chair and threw it at the assailant, giving the hostages enough time to escape with their lives.

Churches now should take an opportunity to renew conversations around safety, conduct risk assessments and reevaluate their security procedures, said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, president and general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, which represents more than 100,000 congregations.

Among factors to consider are identifying church members with a background in law enforcement, the military or security, McKenzie said. Other key steps include conducting drills, ensuring all church members know where the nearest exit is or where to go during an emergency, and knowing who would contact authorities if needed, McKenzie said.

“Surely, we would all love to believe that it’s not going to happen here, it’s not going to be us. But why take the chance? Let’s prepare,” she said.

Every year, the Churches of Christ council hosts discussions – including about security – for leaders of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian and other faiths, McKenzie said. In those spaces, she added, religious leaders have an opportunity to “compare notes” and learn from each other.

A difficult balance for many pastors

Nelson, in San Antonio, often thinks about nearby smaller congregations that typically don’t have the financial or human resources to bolster security measures in the same way his church can, he said. He encourages churches to station at least one person to monitor each entrance, and he has tried to spread the word about the federal grant program.

Schumer, too, noted the additional challenges smaller congregations face.

“FEMA has people who will help if you’re a small synagogue or a small church or a small mosque and you don’t have a grant writer, you don’t know what to do,” he said. Schumer’s May 5 news conference followed a series of hoax bomb threats the prior day against New York synagogues, he said.

Places of worship that apply for federal money for bolstered security, such as guards and fences, may be able to get those resources within “months,” Schumer said, pointing potential grant recipients to the agency’s website and urging them to apply by Tuesday.

Florida-based security company SecureTek Service Group Inc. has been helping low-resource places of worship, including Germany’s church, navigate applications for grants and other types of funding, its founder Rico Reed told CNN. Often, churches with little funding don’t know what kinds of resources are available, and security additions can be costly, with vulnerability assessments in some cases reaching up to $2,000, while camera systems can cost several thousand dollars, he said.

“A House of Worship is supposed to be a safe place,” Reed said. “But it’s actually a soft target. And it takes a while for people that are part of the congregation to understand that times have changed. And it’s really dangerous.”

In Tennessee, Lori Morrison has long been talking about the importance of church security, on both her website and her podcast. A former private investigator and now a volunteer on her own church’s security team, Morrison said there’s a tough balance between keeping a church secure and welcoming.

“You don’t want to lock the doors and issue passes,” she said. “But you can take those common sense precautions.”

At her church, team members observe people as they arrive, while others check badges in sensitive areas, like the children’s section, to ensure only approved members enter. There are also trainings throughout the year on safety and preparation for medical emergencies, Morrison said.

“We are supposed to look out for (congregants’) well-being, and so we have to make sure that we’re doing that at the same time that we’re maintaining that openness,” she said.

In Pennsylvania, Germany admits he worried before the attempted shooting some parishioners would feel uncomfortable with officers around, or added security could make the church less welcoming.

But two weeks ago, someone tried to kill him, he said. And he worries it may happen again.

Now, his focus is to make his church safe. He hopes to raise more money, get help to apply for grants, and take all the measures necessary to ensure his community can practice its faith in peace. He hopes other churches – big and small – do the same.

“I would encourage other churches to use our video as just a springboard to start having thoughts about church security,” he said, “because you never think it’s going to happen to you – until it happens to you.”

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