GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They were intended to be places of safety and peace. But, much like schools, churches are what law enforcement calls a "soft target" for violence.
That's why Pastor Claire Dobbs, along with the Gulfport Ecumenical Fellowship, hosted a security seminar at Westminster Presbyterian Church for church members to learn what to do in any kind of attack on their church.
"The unfortunate reality is that churches are public places, and they are targeted at times by active shooters," Dobbs said. "We're having to balance how to promote peace which is keeping with the gospel, but also how to offer houses of worship that are safe and secure and hospitable."
A Gulfport police officer organized the class saying that deaths in churches rose from 65 in 2016, to 117 in 2017. That's one reason Gulfport resident Willie Shinholster attended this seminar.
"What brought me out is the concern of what's going on in the world," said Shinholster.
A 31-year military veteran, Shinholster hopes to work with his pastor to create a safety plan.
"That's why my pastor sent me over here, so we can activate and also create a plan so when the situation does arrive then the church would know how to react to it," said Shinholster.
Some church leaders say their main concern is the unknown when it comes to preparing for an attack on a place of worship.
"It's a challenge," said Dobbs. "It's one of the reasons we're leaning into local law enforcement to help us understand better how to do that. We don't have the answers, and this is unknown territory for us."
Dobbs counted nearly 30 different churches represented at Thursday's seminar, some traveling from as far as Poplarville.