Seminar touts safety at Metro Detroit houses of worship

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

It’s a question few parishioners want to ask but one that resonates: “What happens if violence strikes a house of worship?”

That is the idea behind an event this weekend that strives to fortify the faithful in Metro Detroit against potential threats.

On Saturday, the nonprofit Security Leaders Coalition is scheduled to present a crisis management training seminar for faith-based groups at Detroit’s Second Ebenezer Church.

The session features presentations from speakers versed in confronting conflict.

Carl Chinn survived a gunman taking him and others hostage at the Focus on the Family’s international headquarters in 1996, then two decades later was a first responder during a deadly shooting at a Colorado church.

Brian Webb of Atlanta is a specialist in teaching international travel safety, security, crisis management and disaster planning as well as active-shooter response and survival training.

Plans for the gathering have gelled over more than six months but became pressing in the wake of a November shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church claimed 26 lives.

Other episodes have captured attention, such as the 2015 massacre of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina; the 2014 triple slayings at a Kansas Jewish center and retirement home; six worshipers dead at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in 2012.

Metro Detroit sites have not been immune to targeting. In early 2017, a fire ravaged a Washtenaw County mosque for which authorities identified a teen as a suspect. Last fall, vandals damaged a building that a predominantly African-American Wayne church owns.

“We are sickened by the headlines and the endless heartbreak. The time to take action is now,” said Ray Washington, security director at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. “No one wants to think it could happen to them or someone they know and love, but the sad truth is, it can.”

Safety challenges led to area religious leaders launching the Security Leaders Coalition in 2015. It now represents more than 50 member groups across southeast Michigan and meets monthly, according to the website.

Participants often share tips about how to protect their congregations and have instituted a messaging system alerting members about incidents at individual sites, coalition president Mike Harvill said.

It helped recently when a visitor at an Oakland County church reportedly caused a disturbance and later went to another coalition member’s house of worship, Harvill said. “By posting that information,” he said, “the churches are in the know that somebody is out there trying to do this stuff and they can be prepared.”

This year, the coalition also quickly learned when a bullet pierced a glass door at Zion Church in Troy. No one was hurt, but the incident underscored how “we just never know when something could happen at our congregation,” Harvill added. “No faith is excluded..”

Although congregations typically explore safety measures, such gatherings can add to security, said Bishop Edgar Vann of Second Ebenezer Church. “What we ought to be doing is sharing best practices and pertinent information as regards security. This will allow us to hopefully prevent incidents of violence in houses of worship.”

That notion guided a similar meeting Thursday in Sterling Heights. The Police Department held a prevention training session for about 20 local churches at Bethesda Christian Church. “We’re looking to inform our community in defending itself and protecting these types of environments,” Lt. Mario Bastianelli said.

Security Leaders Coalition crisis management seminar

When : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where : Second Ebenezer Church, 14601 Dequindre, Detroit

Cost : $60 for coalition members, $75 for nonmembers and includes lunch.

Register by Friday at