A lone gunman entered the sprawling First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., Sunday morning, March 8, during its 8:15 a.m. service and after exchanging words with the pastor who had stepped down from the pulpit to greet the man, he opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun.
sat in stunned silence. Some were too shocked to accept as real what they had just witnessed while others believed the scene was some kind of a skit employing exploding confetti. But it wasn’t confetti from a play pistol that littered the platform. It was the exploded pages of Pastor Fred Winters’ Bible.
According to Larry Trent, director of the Illinois State Police, four shots were fired before the gun jammed. One of them fatally pierced the pastor’s chest. He died while being transported to an area hospital.
Two church members rushed to tackle the gunman who pulled a knife after the handgun jammed. They, along with the gunman, were wounded in the struggle.
Meanwhile in a twist of irony, in thousands of other churches across the nation a Scripture selection from the lectionary was being read: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Winters, a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., began his ministry at First Baptist in 1987, also the year he was married. During his 22-year ministry the church grew from an average attendance of 34 to more than 800 in 2007 the last year the church submitted figures to LifeWay’s Southern Baptist Directory Services.
Winters was known for innovations, as when he placed money in envelopes and encouraged church members to take the money to do good. He had served as the president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
Speaking to the media, worship pastor Mark Jones said he now understood what people meant when they said an experience was surreal. He said, “We have no idea what this guy’s motives were or what caused him to do this act of violence. But what we need to tell our people is that our foundation is the Rock, which is Jesus Christ, and the Bible tells us about the life we can have in him. We can go through challenging times. We can go through storms, and if we have that faith and trust, that will help us to have that internal peace even though we are absolutely getting assailed right now.”
He said that the pastor would not want the church to be afraid but to continue what had been started.
Charges against the 27-year-old assailant are pending.
Winters was the father of two daughters.