Being Wise as Serpents and Gentle as Doves: A Conversation about Congregational Safety

Event Date: March 30, 2017
Time: 11:30 am to 1:30 pm

This presentation recalls the experiences of Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in the aftermath of the Emanuel Nine Massacre. These events included a powerful outpouring of love from local congregations, community leaders and township officials. Campbell Chapel hosted a prayer vigil where twenty-five local clergy stood in support of the congregation. Seven clergy were on the program and provided inspiring prayers of faith and courage. Local media was present and sympathetic. In the weeks following visitors from across the country attended worship and offered support.

However, some visitors were not so supportive. One white male, in particular, began to attend the Wednesday bible study, which begins at 7 pm. He appeared to be uncomfortable and at times, even bored. He frequently sighed and shook his head, as if in disagreement. When questioned about his behavior, he said he did not notice he was sighing or shaking his head. He had all of the correct answers to the challenge questions. He was there to worship God. He might consider joining the congregation. He wanted to worship in a racially diverse community. At the same time, the membership was worried. A few stopped coming to bible study. His body language and his words were in conflict.

Per the recommendation of the Presiding Elder (equivalent to a District Superintendent), the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division was contacted. They did a background check on the visitor and eventually assigned an armed agent to the congregation. This presentation explores the numerous meetings and conversations prompted by the above events.


This presentation moves the conversation of congregation safety from the theoretical to actual experiences and events of a real congregation. It provides nuance to the dialog and adds meaning. Participants will gain insight concerning evaluating and addressing issues of congregation safety, the role of law enforcement and/or firearms in protecting a congregation, strategies for addressing a congregation’s fear and methods for balancing openness for ministry with protecting the flock. This presentation will help clergy and lay leaders in:

  • evaluating the safety of their current ministry setting;
  • exploring the notion of balancing openness to ministry with members’ safety;
  • share methods of addressing fear and anxiety during worship experiences; and
  • predetermine the use of law enforcement and armed security.


Jon R. Black is an ordained itinerate elder of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. A retired Navy Chaplain, Jon has served five A.M.E. congregations and numerous military chapels. He is currently the senior pastor of Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church of Bluffton, South Carolina. He holds the Master of Divinity Degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and the Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry Degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney was a close friend of Jon’s. Rev. Pinckney served as the senior pastor of Campbell Chapel before being assigned to Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the site of the Emanuel Nine Massacre. In the aftermath of the Emanuel Nine Massacre, Jon has been able to reflect theologically on issues of congregation safety and open door ministry to others.

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