On June 17, nine people were murdered in a South Carolina African Methodist Episcopal church at a Wednesday night Bible study.
The murderer walked in off the street and attended the service before stating he came to kill black people, and then opened fire.
I'm sure America's pastors caught their collective breath at the news, and immediately thought: "Could it happen here?"
Most of them probably dismissed the thought and replaced it with: "Oh, that could never happen here because our church and/or town is safe."
Is it though?
The week beginning June 22, seven southern black churches burned, including one in Florida.
On July 16, four U.S. Marines were killed in a Chattanooga recruiting center.
On July 23, two people were shot and killed and nine injured in a Lafayette, La., movie theater.
On Aug. 2 in New Mexico, a Baptist church and a Catholic church were bombed within minutes of each other with congregants present.
We say: "That can never happen here."
Until it does.
Mental illness lives everywhere. Evil doesn't confine itself to certain cities.
It wasn't obvious these murderers were homicidal before they killed.
We can't be naive -- the world has changed radically in recent years. And there's a standard of care in the law that says, if you "knew or should have known" a dangerous condition existed on your premises, and did nothing to address it, you can be held legally liable for the results.
Pastors are now on notice unbalanced people can freely walk into churches and kill people.
What can we do to protect the flock without overreacting or underreacting?
The early Christian churches forming after Pentecost faced great persecution from several fronts.
The apostles and evangelists preached publicly -- often ending up stoned to death or chained in Roman prisons.
The New Testament church was mostly an underground movement. Groups of new Christians met in home churches (Romans 16:5). Services were closed to the public and the doors were locked (Acts 12:12-16).
Yet membership grew exponentially through word of mouth.
If a church was discovered, it meant persecution of the members by sword, stones, fire, torture or lions in arenas.
The current persecution of the Christian church in the United States by guns, arson, and bombs seems mild by comparison.
Abroad, it is worse, and includes all of the above and also suicide bombers who infiltrate a church service and blow themselves up, killing everyone.
After hearing the news of the mass murder in the South Carolina prayer meeting, we had to ask ourselves: "Could our church be at risk?"
We're on a main highway. A large marquee announces our Wednesday night events.
Over the years, a few seriously troubled souls have wandered in.
Our congregation is multicultural. Most importantly, we have children.
We subsequently made the decision to take the Wednesday night activities elsewhere. All our friends, members and anyone they invite are welcome. Otherwise, Wednesday night services are now closed to the general public.
This seems counter to every church's desire to be open to anyone who is seeking the Lord, and to grow our churches.
Yet, I believe our primary duty as shepherds is to protect the flock and leave the growth to God.
Church history shows us those who truly want to know and follow Jesus will always find a way to worship with other Christians.
(P.S. If South Carolina churches were not "gun-free zones," maybe fewer people would have died that Wednesday night.)
According to the local Florida Sheriff's office, properly permitted guns are allowed in Florida church services.
The Rev. Anne Barber, pastor of My Father's House, 7215 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.