By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
January 7, 2016
FAYETTEVILLE – This week a Fayetteville pastor, Larry Wright, garnered national attention for diffusing a situation that could have turned out like the mass shooting of nine people in a Charleston church last year.
Wright (57), who also serves as a city councilman in Fayetteville, said he and the members of his church were startled when Gregory Boone (32), entered with a semi-automatic rifle pointing into the air. The church was conducting a New Year’s Eve service at the time.
Boone had already been pacing outside before he entered the church.
Wright said he noticed the stranger (Boone) when he walked inside with a loaded magazine clip to a gun in one hand and the rifle in the other. He stepped down from the pulpit and approached the man and could tell that he was distressed.
According to the Fayetteville Observer, Wright then asked Boone, “Can I help you?”
Wright proceeded to counsel and calm Boone, while also convincing him to give up his weapon. The pastor prayed for the distraught visitor, who fell to his knees and started to weep. Four of the deacons of the church also came forward to embrace him and make him feel welcome.
After inviting him to sit in the front pew, Wright resumed preaching the Watch Night service. During the altar call, Wright told the Fayetteville Observer Boone “gave his life to Christ.”
Someone called 911 and when the police arrived, the pastor asked them to remain outside. The officers took the troubled Boone away after the service to have him assessed for mental health treatment.
The Fayetteville Observer also reports Boone is married, an Army veteran who has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to afford his medication.
Boone returned to the church, Heal the Land Outreach Ministries, on Sunday. He and his wife asked for church membership. He also wanted to be baptized, Wright said.
Thursday, WRAL News reported that Boone had now been arrested by the State Probation Division on a probation violation. The latest development reveals he was out on parole after being charged in 2012 for possession with a firearm by a convicted felon. WRAL News says Boone admitted that he is a convicted felon and claims that by bringing the gun to the church he was looking for a safe place to surrender it without getting into trouble.
Wright said Boone’s desire to give up the weapon was the right thing; he just went about it the wrong way. He says that he and the church are still committed to helping Boone and intend to follow through with his baptism.
“I think this is a story of grace,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The pastor and the people of Heal the Land Outreach Ministries should be commended for the way they are living out the gospel toward this man, but I am also concerned about the way this matter could have ended tragically for them,” he added.
Dr. Creech went on to argue that, in an age of mass shootings, churches need to resist developing a fortress mentality that inhibits their ability to fulfill their mission of welcoming the stranger, but they must also balance their compassion with safety by taking measures to step up their security,” he said.
In another story by WRAL News posted before Christmas, NC Houses of Worship Stepping Up Security, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, who heads the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, says requests for security training have been pouring in from North Carolina churches since the shooting at the Charleston church last summer.
Peterkin says that the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association has issued training materials statewide to protect church assemblies. He says the materials contain: “How to confront a shooter in the church, what to do when suspicious people are coming into the church, how to protect the pastor or the head person in the place of worship, how to exit, lock down procedures, everything you can think of in security.”
WRAL also reports that as a part of the training churches are being encouraged to form a security team.
“Look for retired military, active military, law enforcement in your congregation. We ask them to do that,” said Peterkin, “because these guys have been trained over and over again to deal with these threats.”
Dr. Creech said that he had been in contact with representatives of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association to ask how the Christian Action League might help the League’s supporting churches, as well as any other churches with interest, to get the training.
“In this day and hour, I think such training for churches is an essential. The Christian Action League is willing to partner or facilitate in any way we can to assist churches with their security needs,” said Dr. Creech.
Churches wanting to begin safety training should contact their local sheriff’s departments.