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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 1/20/2006 8:15:09 AM EDT
You are in church, legally carrying your gun, (This happened in Maryland were getting a CCW is next to impossible.) and the following goes down. What do you do.


Armed gunman holds up church during service

Armed robbery during worship service jolts congregation

Monday, January 09, 2006
Melissa Lauber

An armed gunman interrupted the evening service on New Year's Day at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air, Md., shocking the congregation as he robbed them of an undisclosed amount of cash and valuables.
Most disturbing to the congregation was the intruder's use of three children present to gather up the wallets and purses.

"He had to be desperate to be waving a gun at children," said the Rev. Craig McLaughlin, the church's pastor. "That was evil. I was thinking of the Scripture passage, 'The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.' Evil will not stop people from serving God."

Those thoughts filled McLaughlin's prayers as he sat in the front pew of the contemporary service, praying for his congregation to remain quiet and calm.

The people did just that. "They were mature and godly. They did exactly the right things," McLaughlin said. "At first, people didn't know exactly what was going on, but it became evident pretty quickly that this was a robbery, that this was real."

It was shortly after 6:30 p.m. when the man, wearing a ski mask and dark clothes, burst into the church and began waving a gun around, the pastor said.

The gunman seemed nervous and yelled a great deal. He ordered three brothers, ages 6, 8 and 11, and their father to collect purses and wallets. At least eight of the 50 people present were robbed. After ordering the congregation to the front of the church, the gunman fled and a handful of people called the police on their cell phones.

Police estimated the incident lasted about 10 minutes.

Before the police arrived, McLaughlin led the congregation in prayer, asking that God would change the heart of the robber.

Speaking to local and national media, members of the congregation expressed shock and disbelief and said their church would have provided the man with assistance if he had asked.

The church is known in the area for its generosity, tithing at least 30 percent of its income to outreach efforts, and building and maintaining an orphanage in Namibia, along with a variety of other ministries. In March, the church will consecrate a new, larger building for worship.

In the week following the robbery, some United Methodists in the area have expressed "fear and concern," said the Rev. Barry Hidey, pastor of nearby Bel Air United Methodist Church.

Some churches are taking precautions, like training ushers in security procedures, asking church members to leave valuables at home and suggesting they make their offerings by direct deposit, if it makes them more comfortable.

"The best defense against harm is to have a busy, active church, filled with people who talk to others and meet and talk with people they do not know," Hidey said.

The Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, superintendent of the Baltimore-Harford District, praised the way the Mt. Zion congregation demonstrated discipleship following the robbery.

In a letter to the pastors on his district, Hunt shared that there was also a burglary at a parsonage in Baltimore over the Christmas weekend.

"I believe these incidents point to the tremendous pain incumbent in our world, and thus the need for the Resurrected Christ in times like these," he wrote. "I encourage you, during your times of worship this weekend, to lead your congregation in prayer for all of those affected by these (and other) forms of violence."

When talking with the media about this event, McLaughlin has shied away from words like "rallying around" because they don't express the faith component that seems to underlie the congregation's response. "But there is a sense in the congregation that we are going to be in our sanctuary," he said.

"I feel like this confirms why we do what we do. We lift up Jesus. Without Jesus, this is a world where people end up pointing guns at little children. We are not going to give into a spirit of fear."

Lauber is an associate editor for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. UMNS News

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