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Wedgwood reclaims sanctuary for God with Sunday worship

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The bloodstained carpet and pews had been removed. Most of the dozens of bullet holes had been covered with flowers. Broken windows had been replaced. The only outward signs of the Sept. 15 tragedy: two choir robes lying on empty chairs in the choir loft, concrete floors, thousands of e-mail messages of prayer and sympathy posted on the foyer walls, and a newspaper and television camera in the sanctuary.
Hundreds of people came. The murderous acts of a crazed gunman could not stop them. The grief could not stop them. The pain could not stop them. The fear could not stop them. The emotional and physical exhaustion of the previous three days could not stop them. They were the church determined by the grace and power of God to gather for worship and fellowship in his house and not let evil win even the smallest battle.
And without forgetting those who died at the hands of Larry Ashbrook, Wedgwood Baptist Church worshiped God in his house just four days after the shooting that claimed eight lives and left seven wounded.
“The world doesn’t have a clue how we are withstanding this tragedy,” Wedgwood senior pastor Al Meredith said. “Wedgwood is a wonderful church. But we are just ordinary people with an extraordinary God.”
Meredith preached from Romans 8:28 which says: “And we know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
During the children’s message, Meredith used the nursery rhyme “Humpty, Dumpty” to explain to the children seated around him on the stage what had happened.
“We had a great fall, too. Somebody came into our church and started shooting. We are broken, too. But what will put us back together again is God,” he said.
Laura MacDonald had been at the Wednesday night youth rally when the shootings took place and had at first been afraid to return to the sanctuary so soon. But she came.
“I felt God’s presence. This is God’s house. It’s not an evil house. It’s his house. He’s reclaimed it,” MacDonald said.
Seven people professed Christ as Lord and Savior during the invitation in the two services and others came for prayer or to join the church, including Bob and Debbie Beckel, parents of shooting victim Kristi Beckel. During the second service, people laid hands on and prayed for the family of shooting victim Cassandra Griffin. During the offertory, the deacons laid hands on Meredith to give him strength and wisdom during his message at that afternoon’s citywide memorial service.
The worship service was a familiar mix of contemporary songs and traditional hymns, ranging in tempo and mood. Regardless of the song, the congregation found it difficult to stay seated, standing spontaneously in affirmation during every song, including the choir special, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
A choir robe and a rose were placed on two chairs in the alto section where murder victims Sydney Browning and Susan Kimberly Jones would have been seated.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill was on hand to bring the opening prayer, asking God to “use these martyrs to save a generation of people.”
The link between the school and the church is evident in the list of dead and injured: of the dead, Sydney Browning, a 1991 alumnus, Shawn Brown, a current student, and Jones, a first-year student; and of the wounded, Kevin Galey, a Ph.D. student, and Jeff Laster, a diploma student. Several hundred Wedgwood members are students, alumni, staff or faculty at the nearby seminary.
Before the pastor spoke, Tom Price, sang “With Hope,” a song written by Stephen Curtis Chapman for memorial services held for Christian teenagers killed while praying at a high school in West Paducah, Ky.
Counselors from the church and other groups such as Southwestern Seminary were on hand to help people who needed grief counseling. Youth and adult Sunday school classes met to sing, pray, read Scripture and talk in small groups.
Near the end of the service, Mike Holton, Wedgwood’s church administrator, said that most regularly scheduled church activities were canceled for the week, but the Wednesday night prayer meetings would go on as scheduled. The congregation affirmed the decision with an ovation.

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  • Matt Sanders