Local churchgoers are putting down their Bibles and picking up Glocks.
Recent violence in places of worship around the world, have local worshipers learning what to do if the worst should happen.
A group of 14 people from different Jacksonville-area churches are participating in a two-day course by Strategos International.
The group would rather preach the gospel and leave the guns aside but they’re training because for them, knowing how to handle a firearm in a place of worship has become a necessity.
Student pastor Jason Robbins is one of several from Destination Church who signed up to be a “church protector.”
“We want to be prepared for anything and we just feel like this is the best way to do that,” Robbins said.
Instructor Roger Huggins, a former JSO officer, says this is just one of hundreds of classes Strategos International will teach a year with church leaders nationwide.
He just returned from teaching the same class in Omaha, Nebraska.
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“When people go into the church they feel safe, they feel secure inside, their backs are to the door, their focus is to the front of the church,” Huggins said.
That’s what makes churches so-called “soft targets,” he said. Huggins said it’s also important to know how to handle a firearm in a crowded place such as a church in the event a threat arises.
Just in the last five months, 50 worshippers were killed in two mosques in New Zealand and 11 were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue. In 2017, 26 churchgoers were killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
But teaching firearm proficiency isn’t the only lesson.
“It doesn’t take a firearm to be a hero. One of the things that we teach in the security course at the churches is just being aware of your surroundings,” Huggins said.
Robbins said the training is also teaching him how to de-escalate situations.
“Really understanding the prepare techniques to engage somebody, to talk to somebody without ever having to escalate to that point of physical violence,” said Robbins.
He said it’s a sad reality, but it’s where we are right now as a society.
“We’ve got a security team and we’re all trying to get training, so we can really just protect our people of our church,” said Robbins.
Huggins puts it this way: "The only thing worse than having to explain why you have to prepare for a threat is why you didn't," said Huggins.
The group will reconvene at the gun range Saturday for the final day of training. Before and after the training session, the group says a prayer.
Cox Media Group