Hoke County authorities to help churches feel secure

HOKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The tragedy in Charleston raises the question of how we can protect our own places of worship.

Now, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin wants to help bring a sense of security to churches that generally welcome anyone with open arms.

"I remember as a child, you could go in the church anytime day or night," said Pastor Toby Neal, of the Hillcrest Baptist Church. "It didn't matter. The doors were never locked."

For Neal and other church ministers, the horror of the Charleston shootings is a revelation.

"We don't want to push anybody out of the church, and we are not," said Neal. "Anybody that comes in is welcomed, but at the same time someone we don't know, never seen before we're definitely going to keep an eye on them."

The Charleston tragedy has clergy and law enforcement agencies across the nation looking at ways to protect the flock.

"Paying attention during worship," said Peterkin. "Someone has to be paying attention. Somebody has to be looking around."

Peterkin is holding a safety training session next Saturday for clergy of all denominations.

"They need to have something in place so they won't get caught off guard," said Peterkin. "We want to empower them to be more observant."

The sheriff said since Wednesday he has had multiple calls from church leaders wanting to know how they can make their houses of worship safer.

"They need to know to call us even if they suspect something," said Peterkin. "If it doesn't look right, if it doesn't feel right, we are going to respond."

Neal said it will help bring church security into focus as he and other pastors enlighten their congregations on the word of God and preach vigilance during worship.

That safety training is Saturday, June 27 from noon till 2 p.m. at the East Hoke Middle School in Raeford. It's open to all clergy in Hoke and surrounding counties.

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