Meeks to hold church safety sem­i­nar at El Do­rado Mu­nic­i­pal Au­di­to­rium

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Tia Lyons Staff Writer

All Jimmy Meeks is ask­ing for is three hours.

That’s all the time he needs to help raise aware­ness about vi­o­lence in churches and to show con­gre­ga­tions what they can do to make their houses of wor­ship safer.

Meeks, a min­is­ter and re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer of Sheep­dog Sem­i­nars, will share his ex­pe­ri­ence in both fields to speak about church safety and se­cu­rity in a sem­i­nar that is set for 2 un­til 5 p.m. Sun­day in the El Do­rado Mu­nic­i­pal Au­di­to­rium, 100 W. Eighth.

The event is free and the pub­lic is en­cour­aged to at­tend.

The sem­i­nar was sched­uled upon re­quest from the El Do­rado Po­lice Depart­ment and the Union County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, with in­put from the se­cu­rity team of South Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege, Sher­iff Ricky Roberts said.

Meeks, an El Do­rado na­tive, said he had spo­ken with a friend here and told him that he would be trav­el­ing to Mis­sis­sippi for a sem­i­nar.

Meeks asked if there was any­thing he could do on a stop-through in El Do­rado.

Lo­cal law en­force­ment agencies then asked if he would host a church safety sem­i­nar here.

“I hope ev­ery­body comes out. Please give me three hours. Three hours could save your life or the life of some­one you love,” Meeks ad­vised. He of­fered a star­tling statis­tic. “We set a record this year with 108 vi­o­lent deaths on church and faith-based prop­er­ties,” Meeks said, adding that a record high of 77 was reached in 2015.

He re­cently vis­ited Suther­land Springs, Texas, where a man opened fire on parish­ioners dur­ing a morn­ing wor­ship service in First Bap­tist Church on Nov. 5.

Twenty-six peo­ple were killed.

Meeks said he spent two days with griev­ing cit­i­zens in Suther­land Springs. Sadly, it was a sce­nario with which he is fa­mil­iar.

In 1980, First Bap­tist Church of Dainger­field, Texas, be­came the site of a mass shoot­ing in which five peo­ple, the youngest a 7-year-old girl, were killed and 10 were in­jured.

It was the church where Meeks mar­ried his wife of 40 years.

The shooter, Alvin Lee King III, was re­port­edly a for­mer high school teacher who be­came an­gry when mem­bers of the church de­clined his re­quest to ap­pear as char­ac­ter wit­nesses in a trial in which King had been charged with rap­ing his daugh­ter.

The shoot­ing was the ba­sis of a docu­d­rama, “Faith Un­der Fire,” which is avail­able on DVD. Meeks served as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant on the project.

Meeks was not present the day of the shoot­ing, but he has stud­ied the in­ci­dent and in­cor­po­rates lessons he has learned — along with his the­o­log­i­cal and law en­force­ment back­ground — in his pre­sen­ta­tions with Sheep­dog Sem­i­nars.

Sheep­dog aims to ad­dress the alarm­ing rates of vi­o­lence that is oc­cur­ring in churches and on faith-beaded prop­er­ties and ed­u­cate con­gre­ga­tions about safety prac­tices.

“These tragedies, these mas­sacres go down in min­utes. Churches need to know who’s on your safety team? What does the law al­low us to do in pro­tect­ing our­selves?” Meeks said.

Lo­cal churches re­sponded to ques­tions about safety and se­cu­rity in 2015 in a News-Times story that was done in the wake of a shoot­ing that left nine peo­ple dead in Charleston, South Carolina.

Twenty-one-year-old Dy­lann Roof, a re­ported white su­prem­a­cist, car­ried out a racially mo­ti­vated at­tack on mem­bers of the Emanuel African Epis­co­pal Church, the old­est AME church in the south, dur­ing an evening prayer service on June 18, 2015.

Meeks also vis­ited with that con­gre­ga­tion fol­low­ing the mas­sacre.

A cer­ti­fied crime preven­tion spe­cial­ist, Meeks said he has seen first­hand the last­ing and trau­matic ef­fects such tragedies can have on those who wit­ness and sur­vive them.

“It’ll take 30 to 35 years. When churches en­dure these tragedies, it haunts an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of the peo­ple who went there,” he said.

With his years as a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer and in his work with churches, Meeks said he trav­els the coun­try to help show churches how to pre­vent such tragedies.

“They need to know what to do if there’s some­one an­gry with a church mem­ber. I hate the ef­fects of vi­o­lence. I’ve seen the trau­matic ef­fects of vi­o­lence, with peo­ple still hurt­ing 30 years later, and it broke my heart,” he said.

Meeks re­ferred to a re­cent shoot­ing that left a man in­jured in the park­ing lot of St. John Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, 1018 Wil­son.

The in­ci­dent oc­curred at ap­prox­i­mately 10 p.m. on Nov. 30. An­to­nio J. Wil­son, 24, of Lit­tle Rock, was shot in the right leg. His in­juries were not life threat­en­ing, El Do­rado po­lice said.

“It doesn’t mat­ter that it was at night, and there was no one there at the time. It could have just as eas­ily have been dur­ing the day on Sun­day when the church was full. It could have been a child,” Meeks said.

Roberts said that since the sem­i­nar has been con­firmed at the mu­nic­i­pal au­di­to­rium, law en­force­ment agencies have been try­ing to spread the word.

This is the sec­ond such sem­i­nar over which Meeks has presided in El Do­rado. The first was in Oc­to­ber 2011 at the au­di­to­rium.

He said that while he ap­pre­ci­ated the au­di­ence he had then, he is hop­ing for a larger crowd on Sun­day.

“We don’t believe there’s any rea­son for any churches to panic, but there’s ev­ery rea­son for ev­ery church to be pre­pared,” he said.

For more in­for­ma­tion, call the El Do­rado Po­lice Depart­ment at 870881-4800 or the Union County Sher­iff’s Of­fice at 870-864-1970.

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