WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — To get at the heart of this debate, all you have to do is listen to two people in Waterbury: a churchgoer at The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and a member of the congregation at Grace Baptist Church, who is now head of the church’s ministry security team.
“This is a house of God,” said Debbie, a member of The Basilica of The Immaculate Conception. “There should never be any kind of weapon in the Catholic church.”
“For the safety of all those who come through this church and every church, I think in this day and age you have to be prepared,” said William Parkmond, Head of the Security Ministry Team at Grace Baptist Church.
Parkmond told News 8 it was a difficult decision for church leadership, but one they felt they had to make after a gunman opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, killing nine African Americans, including the senior pastor.
More recent violence at places of worship have hit Texas, New York, and Pittsburgh — just to name a few incidents.
According to The Washington Post, there have been at least 18 fatal church shootings since 1999 — a definite change for many Americans, like Parkmond.
“Years ago, if someone were to say to you need to carry a gun or you need security within a church, you probably would’ve thought they were kind of crazy,” Parkmond said.
Parkmond has spent his entire life going to Grace Baptist Church in Waterbury and said he would do anything to protect fellow members of his congregation.
The church chose him to lead its ministry security team because Parkmond is a retired Waterbury police officer. He said the decision by church leadership is an important one, given the sign of the times.
“It is definitely a responsibility, and it’s enormous,” Parkmond said.
The leadership of one of Waterbury’s largest Catholic churches — The Basilica of The Immaculate Conception — has not decided to hire armed security during its services, but they did hire a security guard to keep watch during services since someone stole an altar crucifix.
They also added more than 12 security cameras, an improved alarm system, and emergency call boxes inside the church that alert police if there’s danger. The church has also arranged for a Waterbury police officer to be right outside during services.
“We’re being very proactive,” said Father James Sullivan. “I feel very safe here.”
“Like I say we do have a police officer who is armed right in front of the church, so I think in that sense we do have armed security but just not our own personnel,” he said.
Father Sullivan also told News 8 pastors throughout the greater Waterbury area recently completed a training workshop with law enforcement to beef up sanctuary security because it is a concern.
“I think it would be on the mind of pretty much every pastor who cares for his flock,” Father Sullivan said.
Other areas across Connecticut are taking safety precautions with their churches, too. For instance, South Windsor police are hosting what they call a “Houses of Worship Safety Presentation” later in January.