City News

After Texas shooting, Madison churches grapple with security concerns

Suburban churches in the Madison area have taken precautions regarding additional security measures, while downtown churches have been more reluctant.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

While some Dane County religious institutions have amped up their security measures in response to the Texas shooting earlier this month, other churches in downtown Madison say they will not make extreme changes to their precautionary procedures.

The Middleton Sikh temple and High Point Church in Middleton have implemented armed guards to watch over services after a shooting in a church outside San Antonio left 26 dead on Nov. 5. Churches in Sun Prairie and Verona are also looking into bolstering security in other ways, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

Meanwhile, some church organizations closer to downtown do not think revving up security measures is the best solution.

Jonathan Grieser, head of Grace Episcopal Church on West Washington Avenue, said he believes gun violence has deeper roots that cannot be prevented by simply hiring more guards.

“We live in a nation where gun violence and mass shootings are commonplace now, and in a culture and political system that does not want to deal with the underlying causes,” Grieser said. “Churches are just another example of how that plays itself out.”

Grieser said the church will “certainly not” add armed security guards to its services.

“We will continue to welcome anyone who walks in the door,” he said. “If that means we are vulnerable to the scourges of our society, then so be it. That is where the church needs to be.”

Other downtown churches, like Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on West Gilman Street, say they are trying to walk the line between ensuring people’s safety and maintaining a welcoming, open atmosphere for community members.

The Chapel is a common study spot for UW-Madison students, who can purchase an access card to enter the building. Communications Coordinator Phil Anderson said a welcome desk worker allows those without a card into the building and watches over security cameras.

Although the Chapel has not experienced any serious threats in the past, staff have become more vigilant amid the growing prevalence of mass shootings across the nation.

“It seems like there is a shooting every week and I am always a little bit more concerned, especially when something happens to a church or another place of worship,” Anderson said. “Each week we want to make sure we are properly prepared to do the best we can to keep students safe and allow them to come to a welcoming place.”

The Chapel was recently the site of an active-shooter prevention training session, taught by Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy Josalyn Longley. Longley said she has given presentations at about 18 county churches to teach people how to react in these life-threatening situations.

Madison Police Department Officer Matt Magolan also teaches the sessions to outside groups like businesses and churches. He said he thinks it is a good idea for religious leaders to prioritize security.

“There’s always the trade-off: security vs. free access,” Magolan told the State Journal. “Churches want to be accessible to everyone, and unfortunately it makes them an easy target.”

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