SALT LAKE CITY — Addressing a somber circle of Utah pastors, Charles Huyck focused on one message: If you don't have a plan, you're going to be a victim.
"As a Christian community, it’s time for us to stand up," Huyck said. "Evil is going to keep coming, but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing."
More than a dozen church leaders from evangelical congregations across the Wasatch Front gathered Thursday at the Salt Lake Christian Center to share their thoughts on the recent mass shooting at a Texas church, as well as recent violence in Las Vegas and New York.
They also shared ideas on ways to keep local congregations safe if a similar situation were to happen at one of their churches.
"Every one of us is willing to give our lives on behalf of those who are less powerful than we are," said Derek Filley, a pastor at Sandy Ridge Church, even if that protection means taking a bullet for his congregation.
A gunman shot and killed 26 worshippers last Sunday during a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Among those killed were a guest pastor and his wife.
"It sobers all of us to think of the challenges that may come our way someday," said the Rev. Greg Johnson, founder of the interfaith organization Standing Together.
The Rev. Johnson expressed sympathy and solidarity with those involved in the Texas shooting, and he invited Utah faith communities to pray for affected families during their sermons this weekend.
"We do believe that the power of prayer is real," he said. "We believe ultimately the God of comfort, love, hope and peace is with us, to be with us in everything that we face."
Alex Lucero, a pastor at Abundant Life Assembly of God in Salt Lake City, defended the notion of praying in times of tragedies.
"Thoughts and prayers are expressions of compassion, of care," he said. "Imagine a world where compassion and care are criticized and mocked. Is it any wonder we have violence?"
Prayer may seem like a small thing to offer, said Corey Hodges, a pastor at Point Church in Kearns, "but for us, we believe that prayers are mighty unto God."
"We would encourage people to continue to pray. We believe it’s one of our greatest weapons that the church has," he said.
The Rev. Johnson also invited leaders and worshippers of all faiths to attend a public violence training hosted by Huyck in December.
As a former federal agent with 30 years of military and law enforcement experience, Huyck said pastors should develop procedures for possible hostile situations.
The training includes situational awareness, self-defense and strategies on handling a violent circumstance.
"The various churches already have some type or form of security, but it’s not organized," Huyck said. "What we’re trying to do is get them better organized, better communication, so if a threat does come, they’re prepared."
Many of the gathered evangelical pastors employ security teams at their churches. Others pay off-duty law enforcement officers in their congregations to act as informal security.
Sieg Krueger, a pastor at Mountain View Christian Assembly in Midvale, said he also has security members stationed in the children's area of his church.15 comments on this story
"It’s really, really easy to blame God for all of this," he said. "But it’s the time to embrace God."
Many of the pastors said they plan to address the recent violence in their sermons this Sunday.
"God is not the problem here. He is the solution," said Bill Young, a pastor at the Rock Church in Draper. "That’s our message as people of faith."
"We’re not after changing gun laws," added Mike Gray, a pastor at Canyons Church in Cottonwood Heights. "We’re after changing hearts. That’s what we’re about."