MARYVILLE, Ill. — One week after its senior pastor was shot and killed while delivering a sermon, an Illinois church will welcome as its guest preacher March 15 one of the few pastors with a similar experience.
The web site of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., said the church plans to hold its normal Sunday schedule that day. It will feature Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, preaching at all three worship services.
Nearly 10 years ago a disturbed gunman walked into an evening youth rally at Wedgwood, fired more than 100 rounds from two handguns and exploded a pipe bomb. The attack killed seven and wounded seven others before the gunman took his own life.
Though Meredith was not present when the attack occurred on Sept. 15, 1999, he is one of only a few pastors with first-hand experience in coping with the aftermath of something like what happened to the Maryville congregation.
Police say Terry Sedlacek, 27, of nearby Troy, Ill., gunned down Fred Winters, a married father of two who led First Baptist Church as pastor for nearly 22 years, before stabbing himself in the throat and wounding two church members who tried to subdue him. Sedlacek faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated battery.
In the years since the Wedgwood shooting, Meredith has spoken publicly about the impact the attack had on the Southern Baptist flock that is affiliated with both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
An article on the Wedgwood web site said the biggest question the church had to answer was the unanswerable, “Where was God when all this happened?”
Out of that struggle came a new understanding of what it means to say, “God is sovereign.”
“He was there during the shootings,” the article says. “He comforts us today as we grieve and as we continue to recover. Through trials he brings understanding; he strengthens our faith when there can be no understanding.”
Attendance grew about 50 percent in the five years after the shooting, and the church sent out 120 members to launch a mission congregation in 2004.
Services at First Baptist Church of Maryville are scheduled at 8:15, 9:30 and 10:55 a.m. on Sundays. Meanwhile, the church is arranging for overflow parking and shuttle services from neighboring churches for the memorial service for Winters, scheduled for March 13.
Visitation will be held at the church March 12, from 2-8 p.m. Funeral services will be held at the church on March 13 at 10:30 a.m. The church is located at 7110 State Route 162 in Maryville.
The family will hold a private burial service.
The church web site said the building is getting swamped with flowers and plants, and requested that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to a trust fund being set up for Winters’ two daughters.
Information on how to give is available from the web site and a Facebook page set up for prayer for the church and Winters’ family. As of midday March 11, more than 10,000 members had joined the group.
Prayer services for First Baptist Church were scheduled Wednesday night, March 11, at United Methodist, Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran and Assembly of God churches in Maryville, coordinated by the town’s ministerial alliance.
An Arkansas lawmaker says she will reintroduce a bill to allow concealed weapons in churches after a deadly Illinois church shooting March 8.
State Rep. Beverly Pyle (R-Cedarville) originally introduced a measure Jan. 29 to remove “any church or other house of worship” from a list of places where people licensed to carry concealed weapons are prohibited from bringing their guns.
The bill passed the Arkansas House of Representatives on a 57-42 vote Feb. 11 but then died on a voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 25.
After a gunman entered the Illinois church and killed Winters with a gunshot to the heart, Pyle told Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV Channel 11 she was making changes to the bill and planned to take it back to the committee hoping for more votes.
“I have received numerous e-mails and phone calls concerning this wanting me to bring this back, none against it,” Pyle told the TV station March 9.
The station talked to one Arkansas legislator — Sen. Hank Wilkins (D-Pine Bluff) — who indicated he might change his vote from “no” to “yes.”
“In light of the shooting yesterday I think there will be a number of legislators who will want to reconsider this,” said Wilkins, who is also a United Methodist pastor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Information from three Associated Baptist Press stories and one Religion News Service story was used in compiling this article.)