by Paul Bowers
Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant will host a church security conference Aug. 28-29 put on by Sheepdog Seminars for Churches, a Texas-based organization that teaches both practical and spiritual responses to the threat of violence.
The seminar is one of at least three church safety training sessions that have been planned in the area since the June 17 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. Trident Technical College offered a free safety course for church leaders on July 23, and the Charleston County Sheriff's Office will offer a free week-long seminar Aug. 24-29.
Sheepdog Seminars was founded in 2009 by Jimmy Meeks, a longtime patrol officer with the Hurst Police Department near Fort Worth, Texas, who has also served as a minister. Other speakers at the seminar will include Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and author of the Pulitzer-nominated nonfiction book On Killing; David Works, who was injured and lost two daughters in a 2007 shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Cheryl Hendrick, whose 7-year-old daughter was killed in a 1980 mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Texas.
"We take a very spiritual approach to this," Meeks says. For example, one tool that Meeks advises church leaders to use is spiritual fasting, a period of abstaining from food or drink.
"In the Bible, on numerous occasions when God's people fasted, it stopped the violence," Meeks says. "Now, we don't say this is a guarantee; we just believe there's other things you can do. There's so many things you can do other than just going straight to thinking that a firearm is the answer."
Meeks says he emphasizes proactive safety training to church leaders in his seminars.
"One of the biggest things we do is we encourage church safety teams to train," Meeks says. "You're not going to know what to do if you haven't trained. Men don't rise to the occasion; they sink to the level of their training."
Meeks says he and his organization are "believers in the Second Amendment," but he says anyone who would carry a gun for the purposes of church security should be properly trained.
"Do you know what you're doing?" Meeks says. "That's a serious thing to carry a gun. You're saying you're ready to kill. Can you do that? Because there's no fun with that. You're going to have some PTSD; you're going to have a lot of issues to deal with afterward."
The registration fee for the seminar is $99, and each registrant can bring one friend at no additional charge, according to sheepdogsafetytraining.com. Meeks says Sheepdog Seminars will offer free registration to any members of Emanuel AME Church who wish to attend.
"There's going to be a lot of tears in Charleston for a very, very long time," Meeks says. "Our hearts are just broken for them."