MANATEE -- My Father's House, a church off U.S. 301 North in Ellenton, moved its Wednesday night meetings off premises to an undisclosed location because of safety concerns.
In the wake of the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., My Father's House has also embraced an offer from two church members to use concealed-carry gun licenses and be armed near the front door for Sunday services, said the Rev. Anne Barber.
Some pastors in Manatee County are strongly against guns in their churches and some feel it's an unfortunate necessity. Either way, church leaders are forced to wrestle with security issues now.
Barber said her pro-gun view comes out of a responsibility to be the shepherd of a multicultural flock with many people of color and children.
"This is definitely a controversial issue," Barber said. "And I never would have thought I would have been arguing in favor of having guns in these facilities 10 years ago."
In the time of Christ, shepherds carried a staff to use if needed to defend the sheep, Barber said.
"That was their weapon and when wild animals came in the door they dispatched them with their weapon," Barber said. "What weapon do we shepherds have today? None. So we need to do something."
Using a metal detector or vigilant church members were the choices, Barber said.
"We don't have the capacity to do a metal detector but we do have a couple of gentlemen who will take turns sitting on the front door," Barber said. "You can tell the difference between a local couple and someone who looks threatening. These gentleman have permission
to take these people outside and chat with them."
The Rev. Robert Sichta of Congregational United Church of Christ on 26th Street West had a different take on the notion of guns in his church.
"The idea of armed guards in churches is absurd," Sichta said. "We are not going to do that."
Sichta said putting guns in his church goes against everything for which he stands.
"The reason we are not going to do that is that we are people of faith, not people of firearms," Sichta said. "We are not going to permit people to come in with guns. We are a no-gun zone. Frankly, we are not going to be paranoid and perceive a threat where it doesn't exist. We are welcoming everyone who comes in. If we suffer the same fate as the people in Charleston, than so be it. But the reality is that is not going to happen."
Sichta believes the shooting in Charleston had its roots in racism -- not anti-Christian beliefs.
"White Christians should be ashamed that they need protection," Sichta said. "We should be standing out in front of our friends of all colors helping them be safe."
It is legal for someone with a concealed weapon license to carry a firearm into a Manatee County church because churches are not on the state's gun-free list, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said.
"I would imagine that based on the shooting that took place in the church you do have church members that are carrying in our churches," Steube said. "But you probably also had that going on before the shooting in the church."
Steube said he didn't have an opinion on guns in Manatee County churches.
"I believe in the Second Amendment and if people have a valid permit they have the right to carry that firearm in locations approved by the state of Florida, one of which is a church," Steube said. "On the other hand, I also believe in abiding by Florida law and the law states you can't carry in schools, bars, to the state Legislature, in commission meetings and other places."
Bayshore Baptist Church is one church in Manatee County recently touched by gun violence. On Dec. 4, 2014, Bayshore Pastor James "Tripp" Battle was shot and killed as he approached the church office.
Bayshore has since installed a video surveillance system, said church member Tom Bos.
"The church secretary now has a scan of many different cameras so she can see who is approaching," Bos said. "I understand that many churches in the area now have weapons available as needed."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.