This Sunday, Some Churchgoers May Choose to Pack Guns With Their Bibles

Congregations face question of security at services in wake of Texas shooting; ‘a responsibility to protect the flock’

Workers on Thursday replaced the front door of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 26 people and wounded 20 others on Nov. 5.
Workers on Thursday replaced the front door of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 26 people and wounded 20 others on Nov. 5. PHOTO: SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

As he does every Sunday, the Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II, an Anglican rector, will put on his collar and robes to offer Mass at his central Pennsylvania church. Now, he is considering wearing something else with his religious vestments: his handgun.

As a Pennsylvania state constable, Dr. Nedd can bring his gun just about everywhere—to the grocery store, to the park and to synagogues and other houses of worship, where he often acts as security. His church was the one place where he went unarmed.

“Weapons do not belong in church,” he said. But, as a bishop, he has “a responsibility to protect the flock,” he added.

One week after a shooting at a Texas churchleft 26 dead and 20 more wounded, congregations gathering for worship around the country Sunday are once again facing the question of security. Long the last frontier where many gun owners went unarmed, the faithful are now considering whether they should bring firearms to their houses of worship as well.

Many who live near Sutherland Springs, Texas, where last week’s shooting took place, said they didn’t bring their weapons into their houses of worship.

Tomie Barker, who attends Christ Lutheran Church of Elm Creek in Seguin, Texas, about 15 miles north of Sutherland Springs, said her husband didn’t have the firearm he is licensed to carry on him last Sunday when their church was locked down following the shooting at the nearby First Baptist Church. But, she said, he plans to have it with him this Sunday.

“Why would we take a gun to church? Church and school—we feel like we ought to be safe,” she said on Saturday, nearly a week after the shooting. “But he’s not leaving home without it now.”

Ms. Barker, 60, thinks other worshipers will feel the same, and said she told her pastor that the church should probably make note of who is armed in case another emergency arises.

“I’ve told everybody, I told my pastor: I’m not going to be a sitting duck or a fish in the barrel,” she said. “We know all about the whack-a-doodles and the copycats.”

Houses of worship are among the softest of soft targets, with inherent missions and traditions emphasizing peace and welcoming. Churches, synagogues, mosques and Sikh temples have struggled to balance their desire to provide an open sanctuary for the community with security. In recent years, many houses of worship have installed cameras and hired armed guards.

The Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting, offered a free seminar on church security. Representatives from more than 300 churches signed up for the course within three days.
The Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting, offered a free seminar on church security. Representatives from more than 300 churches signed up for the course within three days. PHOTO: STEWART F. HOUSE/GETTY IMAGES

After the shooting last Sunday, Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said churches needed armed protection.

Another shooting is “going to happen again, so we need people in churches, either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners,” he said in an interview on Fox News.

Prestonwood Baptist Church, a megachurch in Plano, Texas, announced last week that it would be holding a free seminar on church security. Representatives from more than 300 churches, large and small, signed up within three days.

With roughly 12,000 attendees at its services every Sunday, Prestonwood has armed security guards. Jack Graham, the church’s pastor, said the church had resisted putting in metal detectors so that the church would continue to feel welcoming, and didn’t allow open carry of firearms for the same reason. He suspects some congregants with concealed-carry permits do bring their firearms.

“Frankly, it brings some comfort,” Dr. Graham said of the armed church members. “If there had been someone with a weapon in that little church, maybe that could have been prevented.”

But not every house of worship can afford private security. Smaller churches are now considering arming the congregation or clergy.

Tambria Read, a schoolteacher and chairwoman of the Sutherland Springs Historical Museum, owns a gun and supports people being able to carry them, but had always preferred to keep firearms out of religious spaces.

“I’m not too crazy about guns in church—somebody could take the gun and do something,” said Ms. Read, 59, who sometimes worshiped at the First Baptist Church but wasn’t there last week. “Maybe somebody in a church needs a gun, someone strategic, but not everybody in a pew.”

St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Pine Grove Mills, Pa., where Dr. Nedd is rector, has roughly 50 members, and no budget for private security.

Until several years ago, the church was open 24 hours a day, with no locks on the doors. After a deadly shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., last year, the St. Alban’s congregation discussed security measures. When a newcomer showed up, everyone eyed him warily. Dr. Nedd considered bringing his gun, but decided against it.

Wendy Coulson, a 55-year-old member of St. Alban’s congregation, said she had never brought a gun to church before last year.

Tambria Read, a schoolteacher and gun owner in Sutherland Springs, said she had always preferred to keep firearms out of religious spaces, but ‘maybe somebody in a church needs a gun, someone strategic.’
Tambria Read, a schoolteacher and gun owner in Sutherland Springs, said she had always preferred to keep firearms out of religious spaces, but ‘maybe somebody in a church needs a gun, someone strategic.’ PHOTO:TAWNELL D. HOBBS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Then, one Sunday after the Charleston shooting, she was spiritually guided to bring her gun, she said. Ms. Coulson has a concealed carry permit, and didn’t tell anyone it was with her, she said. Though she hasn’t brought her gun since, having it that day made her feel better, she said.

“The reality of the times is that, if I’m in church, I can’t be completely abandoned to my worship, because I have half an ear listening for a strange sound—that’s the unfortunate part of what we’re dealing with today,” said Ms. Coulson, an engineering consultant. “If somebody were to target our church, I definitely would feel more comfortable that somebody else had an opportunity to slow them day,” she added.

Inez Howe, another parishioner, is from a house with “so many guns.” But her family, too, hasn’t brought them to church. She uses the guns largely for rattlesnakes, she said, adding that her husband, a devoted shooter and collector, doesn’t want to be in a position of using a gun to kill a person.

Still, Ms. Howe would be more comfortable now if someone—“maybe the bishop”—would be armed in church.

“I would never have even thought of a gun in church,” Ms. Howe, 74, said. “But if someone would walk in, I’d hope that we would be prepared.”

Dr. Nedd, the church’s rector, remained torn about whether to arm himself.

“I don’t feel right carrying it on my person when I’m saying mass,” he said. “I’ll probably spend a bunch of time praying about it, and then make a decision when I walk out the door on Sunday morning.”

Write to Ian Lovett at and Erin Ailworth at

The Rev. Canon Philip E. Barber III, PhD

An obituary written by Deborah Barber


Philip E. Barber was born in Houston, Texas, 14 December 1937, of typical Anglo-Celtic Texan stock. He was raised in Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia. While his father worked at the Navy Yard in Washington DC, Phil attended Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia and later graduated from Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas in 1955. He was baptized and confirmed in the Protestant Episcopal Church in that year at the age of 18.

Phil attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, where he met Patricia Ann Tighe, whom he later married. During summers he worked as a roustabout with wildcatter crews in the east Texas oil fields. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, minoring in German and History, in 1959 (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa). He was a Fulbright Student in Philosophy for 1959-60 at the Universität Heidelberg and was a guest member of the Old Catholic Church in Germany.

He then attended Yale University Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, where he served as teaching assistant and earned a Bachelor of Divinity in 1963, and Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) in 1964. He was made deacon in 1963 and ordained priest in 1964 by Bishop Hines of Texas. His daughter Deborah Elaine Barber was born in 1962 in Pasadena, Texas. According to family lore, Phil shipped his wife off to her parents’ home in Texas to give birth so his child wouldn’t be born a Yankee.

In 1964 the Barber family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where Phil studied in the Brown University Graduate Department of Religious Studies and passed his doctoral preliminary examinations in 1967 (“A.B.D.”). From 1967 to 1972 he was Instructor in History and taught freshman History of Western Civilization and upper-division Ancient History courses at Southeastern Massachusetts University. His son Piet Edward Barber was born (a Yankee) in Providence in 1972. During these years Phil served the Episcopal Church with interim substitute work, conducting services at churches throughout New England. He also served in the Chaplain Corps of the United States Naval Reserve. His household was known for taking in international students for sumptuous holiday meals and for hosting jolly parties that entertained university students, faculty and staff alike until all hours of the night. The house itself was known for its book-lined walls, its rotating menagerie of adopted housecats, turtles, and injured birds, and its prodigious back yard tomato crop.

In 1977 Phil moved to Washington DC and completed a Clinical Pastoral Internship in Mental Health in the Protestant Chaplains Office and the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Then the rest of the Barber family moved to Arlington, Virginia and Phil started work with the Library of Congress as a Religion and Philosophy Subject Cataloger. At the LC he was a member of the Professional Guild, AFSCME 2910, and served for more than 20 years as steward, secretary, and steward director, interacting with management at all levels and participating in negotiations from the section to the bargaining-unit level. He conducted further studies at the Naval War College (via the Washington Off-Campus Seminar) and graduated “with highest distinction” in 1981.

Phil retired as Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander in 1982, having lost his Ecclesiastical Endorsement from the Episcopal Church over refusal to accept women’s ordination and Prayer Book revision. His marriage to Patricia Barber ended in divorce. He entered the Orthodox Church and was chrismated into the Orthodox Church in America, where he served as a layman, choir member, reader, and parish officer (including congregation president). He met Diane Capetz at the Library of Congress in 1989, when they were both participants in an experimental approach to cataloging. They married in 1992 and they made their home in Fairfax, Virginia.

Phil was later received into the priesthood of the Anglican Catholic Church, Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States, by Archbishop (then Bishop) John T. Cahoon. He served as Rector of St. George’s Church in Temple Hills, Maryland and then as Rector of the Church of the Ascension in Centreville, Virginia. Bishop Council Nedd II named him a Canon. After leaving the ACC he became a member of the Episcopal Missionary Church, where he was named non-parochial Canon in the Diocese of the East. He was also an Anglican priest associate of the Lutheran Church International. Throughout his life he was known in many churches for being a brilliant preacher and teacher, a warm and kind mentor, and for his startling tendency to wear cowboy boots under his vestments.

Phil received his doctorate in Christian Theology in May 2006 from the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Indiana, with a dissertation entitled “Gifts and Creatures: The Reformation Doctrine of the Eucharistic Presence Exhibited in the Anglican Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.” His coursework over the years focused on Historical, Doctrinal, and Philosophical Theology, with attention to New Testament Exegesis. During his studies he utilized his gift for learning languages, including German, Dutch, French, New Testament Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, a love shared by his children and grandchildren. His family will tell you that he never hesitated to correct their grammar in any language.

Phil retired as a Senior Cataloging Specialist in 2007, with more than 30 years’ Federal service. Following his retirement, he served as an adjunct instructor in Religion and Philosophy at the Virginia Campus of the Valley Forge Christian College for three years, a role that he particularly treasured. His health prevented him and Diane from traveling internationally as much as they would have liked, but they enjoyed many trips to Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge and wine country.

After a series of long hospital stays and cascading problems involving heart failure and an intractable infection, Phil was released to hospice care in the home of his son Piet and daughter-in-law Stacy. His wife, children and six grandchildren are grateful that they had time to enjoy good food, good music and memories with him at home. On April 30, 2017, he peacefully passed from the loving arms of his family into those of his Savior.

A scholarship fund in Phil’s memory has been established at the University of Valley Forge, Virginia Campus. Donations may be made to:
The Rev. Canon Dr. Philip Barber, III Scholarship Fund
University of Valley Forge – Virginia Campus
13909 Smoketown Rd.
Woodbridge, VA 22192