MARYVILLE, Ill. — Twenty-one months after its pastor was
gunned down in the pulpit, First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., has chosen
a new pastor.
Tom Hufty, vice president of collegiate affairs and
assistant to the president at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, Mo.,
takes over as full-time senior pastor Feb. 1. For the past 13 months Hufty has
served as interim pastor of the congregation grieving over the
murder of Pastor Fred Winters on March 8, 2009.
Winters, 46, senior pastor of the church for more than 20
years, was in the middle of his sermon in the earliest of three worship
services when 27-year-old Terry Sedlacek entered the 1,000-seat sanctuary and
walked toward the pulpit. Sedlacek pulled out a .45-caliber semi-automatic
pistol and fired four times until the gun jammed. The fourth bullet struck the
pastor in the heart, killing him instantly.
Horrified worshipers at first
thought it was part of a skit.
Sedlacek then pulled out a four-inch knife and began
injuring himself. Two men who helped subdue the attacker were wounded. Sedlacek
is charged with first-degree murder. In October a judge found him mentally
unfit to stand trial. His lawyers claim he is schizophrenic.
Hufty, a popular supply preacher during his 13 years at the
Missouri Baptist Convention-affiliated university, was among a line of guest
preachers — including some prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention
— to fill the pulpit at First Baptist Church in the months after Winters’
Hufty agreed to become interim pastor, after refusing twice,
on Oct. 11, 2009. The pastor search committee first asked about interviewing
him as permanent pastor in May. “I tried to tell the committee that the
reaction was typical,” he said.
“I told them we had our plans.”
Hufty eventually gave the committee his resume but told them
to put it at the bottom of the pile. The stack of 180 resumes was whittled down
to two. Hufty was interviewed in November and was the committee’s unanimous
“That’s when it hit us that, wow, this is serious,” Hufty
said. The choice was announced Nov. 21. The church voted nearly unanimously to
approve the recommendation Dec. 5.
“God has taught us many lessons during this time, but the
most important one we’ve learned is the very real power of prayer,” said
Mark Jones, minster of worship and interim co-leader at First Baptist Church of
Maryville. “He has answered our prayers by giving us a gifted leader in Dr.
30 years of experience in church work, including 13 years as associate pastor
for student and family ministries at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty,
Mo. He is a graduate of Hannibal-LaGrange and received the master’s in
religious education from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1983.
Hufty plans to continue as interim pastor through January to
finish some projects at Hannibal-LaGrange and to help smooth the transition to
a new vice president.
Hufty’s wife of 29 years, Rhonda, has also worked at
Hannibal-LaGrange as director of public relations since 2003. She resigned Dec.
20. They have two adult children and work together leading marriage-and-family
conferences in churches and conventions.
Winters’ murder set off a national discussion
about church security and prompted debate
about whether licensed concealed-weapons holders should be permitted to carry
their guns in church.
Winters’ widow, Cindy, has started a ministry
of her own called Grace and Hope Ministries.
“I know that for many of you this week brings more hurt than
celebration,” she posted
on the ministry’s Facebook page Dec. 21. “I have found myself aching and
working very hard just to have enough strength to get through each day.”
“I pray that in the midst of pain and sorrow each of us will
still see the hope that our Savior brings and feel his strong presence and
love,” she wrote. “My heart goes out to each of you.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated
Baptist Press. Vicki Brown of Word and Way contributed to this story.)