TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Following the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs, churches across the country have to consider the balance between a welcoming refuge to new visitors and a safe place for the faithful to worship.
Tucson Baptist Church will likely increase its security measures, according to Youth Ministry Pastor Matt Lozano. He said Monday that there were already several protections in place long before the tragedy in Texas.
The Gatekeeper Ministry is dedicated to safety around the church campus, including the school, gymnasium and parking lot. Lozano said church staff and Gatekeepers have attended training for active shooters and explosives.
"Our people understand that the reality is here, this is reality," he said. "If this is what we have to do to protect ourselves and our family and our community, we'll do what it takes."
Lozano said the campus, located on Columbus Boulevard south of 22nd Street, has been hit with smaller crimes like theft and break-ins before. In February 2015, a man broke into the church and started a fire before running away.
The Gatekeepers are trained. Some are armed. Lozano said they don't discourage any parishioners from bringing a gun to church, but they should know that church leadership has everything in place to keep people protected.
The volunteers keep watch over the parking lot with two golf carts. The red carts also serve as a shuttle for families or the elderly on their way to service. They're not meant to turn anyone with good intentions away from a place of prayer.
"That's the balance," said Lozano. "We're not trying to hound you and make you feel uncomfortable, but everything that we do is behind the scenes."
Any Gatekeepers who aren't patrolling the parking lot join the rest of the congregation for service, ready to step in if a security threat appears. Just because they plan for the worst, doesn't mean Tucson Baptist Church has lost its faith.
"There's also the fact that we have to also trust our God," said Lozano. "He's in control of the situation as well. And things like this happen"