SAN MATEO — Candles will be lit and prayers will be said tonight to soothe the pain still felt from a recent church shooting in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Rev. Vail Weller of Unitarian Universalist Church of San Mateo said she was stunned when she heard the news and plans to hold a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Redwood City also scheduled a vigil for the same time.

"We need one another when we are shocked and hurt and frightened and sad," said Bill Kennedy, substituting for The Rev. Julia Older at the Redwood City congregation. "At times like this, we gather and support each other."

Last Sunday, 58-year-old Jim David Adkisson was arrested on suspicion of opening fire during a children's church service at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

Two people were killed, and others were wounded.

According to news reports, Adkisson cited a contempt for liberals and gays.

Weller will revisit the church's safety policy, and provide ushers with more training. But for now, there is no plan to deal with violent behavior.

In late August, a San Mateo police officer is expected to visit the church and demonstrate how its members can be prepared for violence.

"We don't want to believe that kind of thing will happen," Weller said. "But this just opens up the fact that what seems so hypothetical suddenly just isn't. It happened in one of our churches in 2008. It's sad."


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Kennedy, who is expected to be ordained a minister next spring, said they've never had to envision needing a safety procedure before.

"It's just such a shocking occurrence for our congregation," he said. "For pretty much everybody, what happens at church on Sunday is completely incompatible to an enraged person with a weapon. The two ideas don't fit together well."

Jeff Hawkins, of Answers in Genesis, a ministry in Petersburg, Ky., said the mind-set of congregations acting as safe havens need to change. Last month, his book, "An Introduction to Security & Emergency Planning for Faith-Based Organizations," was released.

Hawkins said Wednesday that many faith-based organizations are not prepared to handle security and emergency planning.

He said a lot of it has to do with wanting to remain open and accessible to everybody — not as an "armed encampment."

Answers in Genesis, which is dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith, keeps its uniformed armed officer visible to act as a deterrent. And congregations that take up a more progressive stance need to assess their risks, Hawkins said.

"Religion is a very emotional topic," he said. "Emotion sometimes brings out the worst in people."

Staff writer Christine Morente covers faith, families, Burlingame and North County. She can be reached at (650) 348-4333 or cmorente@bayareanewsgroup.com.

The Unitarian Universalist churches of San Mateo and Redwood City are both holding separate candlelight vigils at 7 p.m. tonight.
On Sunday, the San Mateo congregation will be invited to write messages to the Tennessee Valley Church.
The San Mateo church is at 300 E. Santa Inez Ave. The Redwood City church is at 2124 Brewster Ave.