Editor's note: This article has been updated with the correct name for Al Trachsel.
After 11 people were shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend, local churches are emphasizing a message of love and hope — but also talking about how they can protect themselves.
“We’re a people of love and hope — not of hate or division,” said La Grande Methodist Pastor Al Trachsel on Tuesday. “Our best armor is the armor of love. We can remain hopeful.”
Trachsel said the synagogue shooting will spark a conversation with his congregation about what they would like to see regarding possible safety measures.
“I abhor the idea of having armed guards in church,” he said. “It’s (the) eternal question of ‘What would Jesus do?’ My suspicion is he wouldn’t get an AK-47.”
He said he’s envisioned the nightmare of having a shooter walk into his church many times before.
“I hope my faith is not challenged,” he said. “Should such a disaster befall us, we can only pray for forgiveness.”
Robert Bowers was the sole gunman in the Pittsburgh shooting, which lasted 20 minutes and injured six, including four police officers. He walked into the synagogue and was shouting hate for Jews, according to a USA Today article.
Father Saji Thomas of Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in La Grande said his congregation prayed for the victims and their families on Sunday.
“Life is important — it’s a gift from God,” Thomas said. “Hate is spreading all over the country.”
He said strangers come through the doors of Our Lady of the Valley all the time and it’s always a concern that something may go wrong.
Thomas said he’s been talking to members of his church who may be willing to monitor the door and those who enter the church as a security measure on Sundays. He said he believes there are previous military personnel who may be willing to fight if the need arises.
The leaders are responsible for protecting the members of the church and Thomas plans to talk to the parishioners to see what they would like to do.
In Island City, Faith Center’s acting lead pastor, Jeffry Forbes, said the idea of a shooting in the church weighs heavy on his mind.
“We have to recognize the world we live in,” he said. “We live in a broken world.”
He said the problem is not a political issue, but a heart issue. Violence stems from hate. Someone doesn’t decide overnight that they’re going to kill people, he said.
While no one can predict what is going to happen, he said he has to trust God is in control. The church’s leaders have a moral obligation to protect those who worship at Faith Center, though, and they have talked to law enforcement — including officers who attend the church — on how best to keep the church safe.
“Do we need to get armed guards? Metal detectors?” Forbes asked, adding those measures are unlikely to happen. “There should be safety measures taken, but what’s the answer?”
Forbes said one challenge is finding a balance between taking necessary precautions without responding out of fear.
He said he doesn’t have the answer but he knows he doesn’t want to operate out of fear.
“We should be asking ourselves, in our community, how do we love people?” he said.
See more in Wednesday's spooky edition of The Observer.