Utah’s Episcopal Bishop Scott Hayashi knows how it feels to have a bullet rip through his flesh.
Decades ago, the future clergyman was a 19-year-old clerk in a Tacoma, Wash., record store when three robbers stormed into the place. One hopped over the counter and demanded the young Hayashi give him all the money in the cash register. It was $9.
As the young clerk turned his head, the thief thrust his gun at Hayashi’s abdomen and fired.
“Even though I had been shot,” the Utah bishop says in a video produced by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, “I did not feel any pain.”
He laid on the floor in shock until others found him. A few months and multiple surgeries later, Hayashi emerged from his hospital bed forever changed.
At no time, though, did he wish he had a firearm at the store.
“There was nothing I could have done to stop what was happening,” he says in the film. “If I had had a gun in my possession, it would have done me no good and most likely it would have been used against me or stolen.”
To this day, the leader of the state’s 5,000 or so Episcopalians remains convinced that the solution to violence is not more guns — especially not in churches — even in the aftermath of a massacre at a Texas Baptist church, where a single shooter gunned down 26 worshippers in the latest attack on a faith community.
So is there anything Utah denominations can do — or are doing — to protect themselves in case a mass killer shows up at their doors?
Standing Together, a consortium of Utah’s evangelical churches, plans to hold a one-day training next month to help Christians deal with shooters.
“In order to have peace, we have to kill the evil,” Chuck Huyck, a retired federal law enforcement officer, said at a recent news conference.
Huyck, who will lead the workshop, runs Soldiers of God Missions, which, according to its website, “calls all men out of their comfort zone, and equips them to stand against the enemy, both physical and spiritual.”
Consequently, Standing Together supports state laws allowing licensed gun owners to pack during sacred services.
“We don’t have gun-free zones in most of our evangelical churches,” Greg Johnson, the alliance’s director, has said. “Most pastors are comforted by that.”
Some Utah churches have hired armed security guards or parked police cars outside in hopes of scaring off any would-be assailants.
So what else can churchgoers do?
Salt Lake City police advise a “run, hide, fight” approach if trouble erupts.
“We don’t do training as far as tactics go,” said Sgt. Brandon Shearer. “Every situation is different.”
If it’s possible to run away, do that. If not, try to hide, Shearer counseled. “In the worst-case scenario, fight back.”
In recent years, the widely respected magazine Christianity Today shared some tips about what religions might do — without guns — to improve security for their congregations.
The suggestions include:
• Posting security cameras in plain sight to act as a deterrent.
• Assigning a church member to meet with police and formulate a plan.
• Providing blueprints and photos (digital and hard copy) of every room in the church to police “to guide officers as they secure the church building.”
• Ensuring police have emergency contact information for the “pastor, associate pastor, property manager, medical personnel, and members of the church’s crisis-response team.”
• Keeping police informed about any “existing threats, including anyone against whom the church or a member has a restraining order.”
• Crafting a lockdown policy, and “create visual or lighting obstructions, isolating threats from the body of believers.”
• Being aware of unfamiliar attendees and watch for body language that could be threatening, “denying access to people who are unstable, agitated, angry or intoxicated.”
An admittedly “dangerous” recommendation, wrote Santa Cruz (Calif.) Police Chief Andrew G. Mills, is to try to distract the shooter.
“Weaken his shooting ability by throwing hymnals, yelling from multiple directions,” he advised in the magazine, “and tackling him from behind.”
Few of Utah’s religious organizations — including the predominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has taken steps to bar guns from its services — have either a congregational security team or a plan to train clergy or lay leaders.
Utah’s second largest faith, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, likewise bans guns from the sanctuary, said spokeswoman Jean Hill. “It is a place of peace and worship.”
Catholic officials may have to give some thought to church security, she conceded, because “sadly that’s where our obsession with guns has taken us.”
None of the preparations, however, would include weapons.
For its part, the Episcopal diocese is putting up new signs emblazoned with the words: “No Firearms Allowed.”
It is time to “set aside labels and come together in common humanity as people,” Hayashi concludes in the video, and focus on “safety of all of us.”
Hayahsi helped lead a 2,000-strong march against gun violence in 2015 during an Episcopal convention in Salt Lake City.