Worried churches face need for active shooter preparation

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Wall Township police Lt. Chad Clark speaks at Calvary Presbyterian Church on June 8. THE COAST STAR

WALL TOWNSHIP –Throughout history, churches have served as refuges, sheltering people from the dangers of the outside world.

Times have changed. On a recent balmy spring evening, a police officer strode up and down the aisle of such a sanctuary, explaining to churchgoers how they might protect themselves from an intruder intent on murder.

“Stay calm. Get your wits about you. Think: What are my options?” Wall Township police Lt. Chad Clark said. The lieutenant had been invited by Calvary Presbyterian Church, 2263 Allenwood Road, to give a lecture on how to respond in an active shooter situation.

“Twenty years ago, people thought a church was about the safest place one could be,” said Craig DiBenedictis, pastor of the church. “No one gave a thought to danger.”

But Pastor DiBenedictis said he contacted Wall police immediately after learning of the massacre of 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. The department stationed an officer at the church during services for six weeks, and also offered to have Lt. Clark give his presentation.

About three dozen people, many representing houses of worship throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties, attended the event on Friday, June 8.