Members of Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville gathered this past Sunday to worship and reflect on the lives lost a few days earlier in a tragic multiple-vehicle accident in Tennessee.
With eight white roses placed along the edge of the baptistry behind him, Pastor Tim Stutts expressed his love and admiration for his six church members who died Oct. 2. He also asked the congregation to remember the family and friends of the two others who lost their lives in the crash. While returning from a conference, the church’s bus crashed into a sport utility vehicle and 18-wheeler on I-40 near Jefferson City, Tenn.
“God is in the midst of these trials,” said Stutts, who spoke to a packed auditorium on Sunday; an overflow room was also set up to accommodate additional visitors. “These lives were not in vain.”
Tim Stutts, pastor of Front Street Baptist Church, speaks to the media Oct. 3.
The six church members included Marsha McLelland, 62, Barbara and Randy Morrison, both 66, Brenda Smith, 69, John Wright, 73, and Cloyce Matheny, 95. Trent Roberts, a 24-year-old passenger in the SUV, and 66-year-old Mose Farmer, the driver of the tractor-trailer, also died.
At least a dozen were hospitalized, but three people from Front Street Baptist Church have been released from the hospital since the accident – Brenda Jolly, Wanda Martin and Sandy Boyer.
“Everyone of them had a heart for missions,” Stutts said of his church members who died. “ … They spent most of their lives making much of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“… Praise God that [they] not only glorified God in their life but they have glorified [the Lord] in their death,” he said. “… It is only through Jesus … we can have hope.”
Though there were many tears of sadness and assuring hugs during the service, there were also moments laughter and tears of joy.
“Regardless of the circumstances,” Stutts said, “we can praise in the name of the Lord.”
As he opened his message, Stutts reminded the congregation that the Sunday before the accident he had preached on trials and suffering. He described that worship service as the “calm before the storm.”
Stutts said he believes God has helped to prepare them for this moment. “This journey is not always mountain top … [but] He has promised to never leave us.”
Many people may struggle to understand the purpose behind such a tragedy, or know what exactly to say during this time, Stutts said.
“We don’t have to hang on to a cliché; we have the Good News,” he said.
“While we were sinners, He loved us,” he added. “He died for us … He got our sin. We’ve got His righteousness. That’s good news.”
Since the accident some have posted updates and encouraging reports related to the accident on Facebook.
On Monday the parents of Roberts, the passenger in the SUV who was killed, visited those from Front Street Baptist Church who are still hospitalized.
“There were lots of tears, hugs, prayers, and sharing that took place,” wrote Kenny Lamm on his Facebook page. A former worship pastor for Front Street Baptist Church, Lamm is now a worship and music consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“Only through the strength and power of God and the strong faith of Trent’s family and friends can something like this take place. May God continue to be glorified through this tragedy.”
A community-wide memorial service is set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at Mac Gray Auditorium at Statesville High School.
A “Front Street Baptist Church Family Support Fund” has been established through the North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM). All donations will be used to help meet hospital and funeral expenses.
Send checks to NCBM, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512. Designate the check with the fund name. Donations may also be made online here. Call Kecia Morgan at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5613.
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