Medical issues top list of safety concerns

Ed Reuter coordinates the safety team at Westside Community Church in Columbus. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

With gun violence at the forefront of current news, many people may think of an active shooter situation as a top concern of area church safety personnel.

But, actually, that possibility is ninth on a list of most likely situations to unfold, according to the leaders of the Columbus Indiana Area Church Safety Team Leaders Alliance.

The No. 1 emergency that most often arises: medical needs. Other most frequent situations are simple elements such as disorderly conduct, issues related to sex crimes, theft and domestic issues.

“The foundation for what we’re doing with a safety team is a service-oriented ministry for people,” said Phil Miles, safety team leader at Community Church of Columbus.

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He worked in January with Ed Reuter, in that same role at Westside Community Church in Columbus, to form the local alliance, partly to better educate and train volunteers at local houses of worship via free, two-hour presentations. Reuter is a former career police officer, serving with the Indiana State Police and the former leader of the Bartholomew County 911 Emergency Center. Reuter is now executive director for Indiana’s statewide 911 Board.

Alliance representatives from about a dozen churches are bringing what is known as a Sheepdog Seminar on fighting faith-oriented violence on Saturday to the hosting Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road.

The event is meant to show leaders how to safeguard their flocks from violent intruders from the front parking lot to the nursery.

But the alliance has been training church bodies mostly to deal with more basic issues ranging from disorderly conduct and worship service interruptions to child safety and domestic issues. Information from such training often is disseminated among everyone from ushers to Sunday School teachers.

“They don’t have to be starting from scratch (on all this),” Miles said. “We can help them with everything from ‘How do we start a safety team?’ to ‘Why do we even need one?’”

Miles added that every house of worship will be different in how safety is best addressed.

“There is no one cookie cutter approach,” he said.

Reuter stressed that church safety teams “are not looking for wanna-be cops,” though off-duty officers who are actual church members do help safety teams at Westside and Community Church of Columbus — and some of those trained personnel are armed. Reuter and Miles stressed that a significant emphasis on such teams is learning techniques to de-escalate emotional confrontations and other potentially dangerous situations.

That wisdom can come in especially handy, the duo said, when dealing with a domestic situation if a divorced spouse shows up unauthorized to pick up a child, for instance.

“Ideally, we want worshippers to be able to pray in peace and know that God is watching over them,” Reuter said. “And we want them to know at the same time that someone else is watching over them, too.”

Though an active shooter situation is “way down the list” for probable situations for a safety team to face, according to Reuter, the reality of what others have confronted sometimes surfaces front and center.

Reuter recalled being in Charleston, South Carolina, one year after the 2015 shooting in which nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He walked past the building and said his heart ached.

“It was such an emotional moment for me,” Reuter said. “And I couldn’t help but think that that could happen at any church in the U.S.”

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The volunteer Columbus Indiana Area Church Safety Team Leaders Alliance regularly coordinates two-hour training presentations for those at local houses of worship. Those events cover everything from parking lot vigilance to safety measures with child care.

Information: Phil Miles at [email protected]