Area pastors reflect on Charleston church shooting tragedy

Reverberations of the murder of nine people in a place known for peace were felt in central Minnesota. Wednesday's mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., left six women and three men dead. A suspect, ...

Reverberations of the murder of nine people in a place known for peace were felt in central Minnesota.

Wednesday's mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., left six women and three men dead. A suspect, Dylann Roof, 21, was apprehended after a 14-hour manhunt, Reuters reported.

Four of those who lost their lives as they met for a bible study were pastors.

Pastor Chris Erickson, First Baptist Church in Baxter, said even though violence is not expected it can happen anywhere, even here.

When Erickson heard the news Thursday morning, he said he thought of precautions. His church, as others no doubt already do, conducts background checks on anyone working with children. They also have people who monitor the parking lot and the church during services. They lock the back door. Erickson said what is never wanted is for some tragedy to happen and then to think it could have been stopped if they had acted earlier. But, he said, preventing someone from coming in and sitting with a church group wearing a concealed weapon and hiding a murderous heart - like the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing - isn't realistic.


"How does any church prevent that?" Erickson said. "You are not going to put a metal detector at the door."

Responding to this tragedy by placing armed guards in churches isn't the answer, said Pastor Dave Uhrich, Christ Community Church in Nisswa. Similar calls to arm guards in schools were made following the December of 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"That's a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction," Uhrich said. "I'm not personally convinced that that is the right answer."

Erickson said even an armed guard, or an armed churchgoer isn't likely to prevent loss of life if someone opens fire at a gathering in a small room where a bible study group is likely to meet. And if it could be prevented, Erickson questioned the cost to freedoms to do it. Evil can find a way, he said.

Locks on the doors do more to keep the honest person out than someone who is dedicated to causing destruction, Erickson said. As a church, he said, precautions of having a monitor and locking doors can be taken and then it's time to place trust in the Lord.

"That's a lot easier to say in Brainerd right now," Erickson said, noting people suffering the loss of a loved one in Charleston may not find the sentiment as comforting. "But at the end of the day, it's something you have to lean on. ... There is tragedy and hurt, you cannot deny that, but Christ is hope in all of that."

For Uhrich, when tragedies happen, whether they're caused by humans or natural disasters like floods and tsunamis, he and his congregation approach it as a chance to pray for victims and their families. While he's doubtful someone in his congregation is directly related to someone involved in the tragedy, it still hits them hard.

"We all feel a sense of being related because of the bond we have as fellow Christians," Uhrich said. "We are brothers and sisters in Christ."


The nine people who died in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church died as the result of one person's "wayward choice," Uhrich said.

"The people who chose to be at church that evening, to go to that Bible study, certainly didn't expect their choice to result in such tragedy," Uhrich said.

It's a similar, smaller-scale version of 9/11, Uhrich said, when thousands of people went to work in the morning unaware it would be their last day.

The Bible prepares Christians by telling them to expect to be persecuted for their faith, Uhrich said. But the world continues to become more threatening for Christians. Even knowing the reason behind Roof's actions will never justify taking a life, Erickson said. He said it does galvanize him even more to spread the message of the Gospel.

"You look at our world and our country, you could conclude things are falling apart. It sure seems like it," Erickson said, adding the end of the world is a horror to some but a story of hope for those who trust in God.

"You remove God from society, this is the natural progression," Erickson said.

"Things are going to get worse before they get better," Uhrich said. "We shouldn't be surprised that these kinds of things are coming to pass."

Acts of terrorism like this one are no longer happening "half a world away," Uhrich said. They're happening in the U.S.


"We're not invincible and we're not protected just by the distance across the Atlantic (Ocean) and Pacific (Ocean)," Uhrich said. "We are certainly a reachable target."

It's not just churches or Christians though who are under fire, it's all U.S. citizens, Uhrich said.

"We need to awake and aware of the dangers that seem to be not just lurking in our world, but growing more dominant and maybe even more radical and maybe even more bold."

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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