All Jimmy Meeks is asking for is three hours.
That’s all the time he needs to help raise awareness about violence in churches and to show congregations what they can do to make their houses of worship safer.
Meeks, a minister and retired police officer of Sheepdog Seminars, will share his experience in both fields to speak about church safety and security in a seminar that is set for 2 until 5 p.m. Sunday in the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, 100 W. Eighth.
The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.
The seminar was scheduled upon request from the El Dorado Police Department and the Union County Sheriff’s Office, with input from the security team of South Arkansas Community College, Sheriff Ricky Roberts said.
Meeks, an El Dorado native, said he had spoken with a friend here and told him that he would be traveling to Mississippi for a seminar.
Meeks asked if there was anything he could do on a stop-through in El Dorado.
Local law enforcement agencies then asked if he would host a church safety seminar here.
“I hope everybody comes out. Please give me three hours. Three hours could save your life or the life of someone you love,” Meeks advised.
He offered a startling statistic.
“We set a record this year with 108 violent deaths on church and faith-based properties,” Meeks said, adding that a record high of 77 was reached in 2015.
He recently visited Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a man opened fire on parishioners during a morning worship service in First Baptist Church on Nov. 5.
Twenty-six people were killed.
Meeks said he spent two days with grieving citizens in Sutherland Springs. Sadly, it was a scenario with which he is familiar.
In 1980, First Baptist Church of Daingerfield, Texas, became the site of a mass shooting in which five people, the youngest a 7-year-old girl, were killed and 10 were injured.
It was the church where Meeks married his wife of 40 years.
The shooter, Alvin Lee King III, was reportedly a former high school teacher who became angry when members of the church declined his request to appear as character witnesses in a trial in which King had been charged with raping his daughter.
The shooting was the basis of a docudrama, “Faith Under Fire,” which is available on DVD. Meeks served as a production assistant on the project.
Meeks was not present the day of the shooting, but he has studied the incident and incorporates lessons he has learned — along with his theological and law enforcement background — in his presentations with Sheepdog Seminars.
Sheepdog aims to address the alarming rates of violence that is occurring in churches and on faith-beaded properties and educate congregations about safety practices.
“These tragedies, these massacres go down in minutes. Churches need to know who’s on your safety team? What does the law allow us to do in protecting ourselves?” Meeks said.
Local churches responded to questions about safety and security in 2015 in a News-Times story that was done in the wake of a shooting that left nine people dead in Charleston, South Carolina.
Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof, a reported white supremacist, carried out a racially motivated attack on members of the Emanuel African Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the south, during an evening prayer service on June 18, 2015.
Meeks also visited with that congregation following the massacre.
A certified crime prevention specialist, Meeks said he has seen firsthand the lasting and traumatic effects such tragedies can have on those who witness and survive them.
“It’ll take 30 to 35 years. When churches endure these tragedies, it haunts an entire generation of the people who went there,” he said.
With his years as a law enforcement officer and in his work with churches, Meeks said he travels the country to help show churches how to prevent such tragedies.
“They need to know what to do if there’s someone angry with a church member. I hate the effects of violence. I’ve seen the traumatic effects of violence, with people still hurting 30 years later, and it broke my heart,” he said.
Meeks referred to a recent shooting that left a man injured in the parking lot of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1018 Wilson.
The incident occurred at approximately 10 p.m. on Nov. 30. Antonio J. Wilson, 24, of Little Rock, was shot in the right leg. His injuries were not life threatening, El Dorado police said.
“It doesn’t matter that it was at night, and there was no one there at the time. It could have just as easily have been during the day on Sunday when the church was full. It could have been a child,” Meeks said.
Roberts said that since the seminar has been confirmed at the municipal auditorium, law enforcement agencies have been trying to spread the word.
This is the second such seminar over which Meeks has presided in El Dorado. The first was in October 2011 at the auditorium.
He said that while he appreciated the audience he had then, he is hoping for a larger crowd on Sunday.
“We don’t believe there’s any reason for any churches to panic, but there’s every reason for every church to be prepared,” he said.
For more information, call the El Dorado Police Department at 870-881-4800 or the Union County Sheriff’s Office at 870-864-1970.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com.