‘Start talking’: Kansas City church leader says it’s time to be proactive to keep congregations safe

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- "First I just want to say our thoughts and prayers are with everyone impacted by the Texas church shooting, " said Linda Settles, the executive pastor at St. James United Methodist Church near 56th Street and Wayne Avenue in Kansas City.

Settles said a few weeks ago she and her security team first started reviewing safety measures at their church.

Those measures include two armed, off-duty Kansas City police officers and the church's security coordinator inside and outside St. James on Sunday mornings as well during Bible study on Wednesdays.

"Gone are the innocent days, I think, when we could just come in and have our sacred gathering," Settles said. "We now have to be watching our surroundings from the time we leave our cars to the times that we enter the doors of the church, and that's a sad indictment of the times we live in now."

Settles says it's time for churches to start talking.

"We must start being proactive and do everything we can to protect our members," she said.

About 3,000 people currently attend St. James United Methodist. Settles said on Sundays about 500 people usually attend the church's 9 a.m. service.

Watching over the crowd inside and outside are the officers whose sole job is to keep the 61-year-old church and sanctuary safe at all times.

"Nothing is foolproof or 100 percent, but we have to be proactive and think how can we keep everyone safe? I'm talking about from the senior pastor to the littlest child in our church," Settles said.

Meantime, according to researchers with Faith Based Security Network Incorporated, in 2015 there were 248 "violent death incidents on religious properties." The 76 violent deaths included homicides, suicides and attackers killed by their own actions. Twenty-two percent of the attackers were associated with the church either presently or in the past.

President Trump has suggested the deadly church massacre in Texas highlights the serious issue of "mental illness" in America.

However, Steven Arkin, a neurologist at St. Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, has his doubts.

"I just think it's very early right now to make that assumption," he said. "I think we really have to delve into what really might have been happening with this person, how were they developing at the time and also what their current situation or environment might have been."