By Jeff Wagner

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — As a rash of deadly shootings grips the city of St. Paul, the streets surrounding Central Baptist Church have remained relatively calm. But Pastor Joel Lawrence understands no neighborhood is immune.

“While we haven’t had a homicide, we certainly do have things going on in the neighborhood that could easily escalate to something like that,” he said.

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Two weeks earlier it was a shooting near Allianz Field, right as a soccer game kicked off. Mayor Melvin Carter talked to reporters that night, including an emphatic plea to address the root causes of gun violence.

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“Everyone single one of us has a role in ensuring that our city is safe,” Mayor Carter said.

He said his plan was to bring people together soon to address the root causes of the crime plaguing his city. Pastor Lawrence saw the press conference, which was happening about three blocks away from his church. It’s why he contacted the mayor’s office to offer up his church as one of three locations to host public safety community meetings.

“Literally, lives are at stake in these conversations,” said Lawrence.

Central Baptist Church has programs that help people with addiction recovery, as well as transitioning from incarceration back into society.

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“We have some things that we offer. We know there are other organizations that are offering things, so how can those be linked up in a way that will better serve the city?” questioned Lawrence. “I hope one of the things that really comes out of [the meeting on] Thursday is a better understanding of the map, of the terrain of what people are doing to help, and connecting those together.”

In the previous week, four people were fatally shot in the city. The most recent happened Saturday night in the 1100 block of Hazelwood Street. As officers try to find the people responsible for pulling the trigger, they’re also focused on getting illegal guns off the street before another person is victimized.

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“We’re trying to prevent that. We’re trying to get ahead of this cycle of violence,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster.

That mission has similarities to the one that will happen at Central Baptist.

“I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to be involved in the conversation,” said Lawrence.

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The meeting at Central Baptist Church, located at 420 N. Roy St., is Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting is at Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Rice Recreation Center at 6:30 p.m. The last meeting is Saturday, Nov. 16 at Arlington Hills Community Center starting at 1:00 p.m.

Jeff Wagner