At the ready: Guardian teams train parishioners for medical emergencies, security events
LEWISVILLE - As a shout for CPR came during a Mass at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in May 2021, Erica Herrin started to jump up and help.
A parishioner had passed out and fell to the ground. Her heart had stopped beating.
Herrin, an emergency medical technician, said the woman was quickly surrounded by a team who took action using an automated external defibrillator (AED). By the time first responders arrived, she was sitting up and able to speak.
The team that saved her life, the Guardian Ministers, runs like a well-oiled machine and is trained to handle any situation, be it an altar boy throwing up, a parishioner fainting, or an act of terror. During an emergency event they each have a role, from performing lifesaving measures, to calling 911, to meeting first responders in the parking lot.
Witnessing the incident inspired Herrin to not only get recertified in CPR, it led to her joining the Guardian Ministers, becoming an instructor through the American Red Cross, and teaching the lifesaving classes to others at her parish.
Guardian teams are a community-led safety and security volunteer ministry that provide parishes with a safe place to worship. Teams are active at multiple parishes throughout the 28-county Diocese of Fort Worth.
Herrin went to EMT school in 2016 and after getting licensed had intentions of working in the field but the timing wasn’t right. She said seeing the woman resuscitated was a powerful experience.
“It just devastated me; I was so upset that I didn’t jump right into action. I knew right then I would get my recertification immediately,” she said. “I told myself if that happens again, I’m going to get up and help them.”
Herrin kept her promise and now trains the medical team of Guardian Ministers. Other Guardian Ministers undergo training to serve as armed guardians, parking lot patrol, ushers, and greeters.
“This is the perfect opportunity to use my skills and passion,” she said.
Rich Lubke, an EMT/firefighter who leads the medical team at St. Philip the Apostle, said Guardian Ministers respond more to medical events than to any other. Because they need more team members, he spoke after Mass to encourage people to help and was quite surprised when 45 people signed up — from doctors and nurses to people with no medical training who are willing to learn.
“CPR is a magical thing,” he said. “And the AED is wonderful … It’s a true lifesaving device.”
Lubke said two fire stations are within five to six miles of the church.
“Our goal is keeping them safe until paramedics arrive,” he said.
TRAIN THE TEAM
The Guardian Ministry began after Bishop Michael Olson enlisted the help of a security firm in 2018 to help develop a plan to address the reality of mass shootings in sacred spaces. The firm proposed the idea of recruiting, screening, and training parishioners to provide security at parishes, a model that has been used successfully by other Christian churches.
Mike Short, the diocese’s director of security, leads the program and trains team members in everything from observation and recognition of potential threats to de-escalation techniques and responding to medical emergencies.
The training has paid off. The team at St. Philip the Apostle noticed suspicious activity from people thought to be part of a Satanic cult and prevented them from taking the Holy Eucharist.
Guardian Ministers were already on alert for this type of scenario, after an incident at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish where a suspected Satanic cult member was captured on surveillance video during Communion. He did not consume the sacred host and instead took it with him.
The incident at St. Philip the Apostle ended without harm. The Guardian Ministers noticed a couple who “stuck out,” were behaving oddly, and not participating in Mass. They wore all black. The man had multiple tattoos, including a pentagram on his neck, and was wearing a pentagram ring.
During Mass, the man would get up and walk out and then return to his seat. One such time, the Guardian team approached him and spoke to the man. The man said they were there because his fiancée wanted to go to Mass. The couple left without incident.
Short said Satanic cult members are known for trying to bring the consecrated host to their own “black mass,” a ritual that mocks the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“The Catholic Church welcomes everybody, especially those who are hurting,” Short said. “We’re kind, but we want to find out their story to protect the whole body [of Christ].”
Protecting parishioners and clergy is a top priority not only for churches within the diocese, but others nearby. In January, Good Shepherd’s Guardian Ministry team responded immediately after a hostage situation at a nearby synagogue.
The terror unfolded at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville after a man took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, and engaged in an 11-hour standoff with law enforcement. All four hostages were released unharmed though the hostage-taker was killed.
During the standoff, officials from numerous law enforcement agencies and media outlets used Good Shepherd’s parking lot and facilities. The Guardian team at Good Shepherd opened the parish hall for them and congregants from Congregation Beth Israel so they could warm up and get coffee. They also helped attend to the families of the hostages during the crisis.
“Everybody did a great job of responding,” Short said. “It’s neat to see the community come together. The details of how it happened at the synagogue brought to mind how important it is for everybody [to be] alert and prepared.”