Church of Slain Pastor Meets for First Sabbath Since Shooting

The Illinois church that witnessed the death of its pastor last Sunday came together one week later to hear from a pastor who was not theirs but who understood what they're going through.

"I'm so sorry. I'm not Pastor Fred," said the Rev. Al Meredith of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to the congregation of First Baptist Church in Maryville.

"I know you feel like you need him today. I'm just me," he added.

One week earlier, First Baptist's pastor, Fred Winters, was shot through the heart by 27-year-old Terry Sedlacek as he preached to his congregation.

According to eyewitness accounts, the gunman had walked toward Winters during the service and fired at the minister, who tried to evade his shooter. Two men eventually went to subdue Sedlacek after his gun had jammed and were injured by his knife during the struggle. The gunman has since been arrested and is being held without bail, charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery.

On Sunday, Meredith preached at all three of First Baptist's Sunday services, as well as a community service, reminding the congregation that they "are the most prayed for ... in all of Christendom."

"And I applaud you for your grace and courage in coming today," Meredith continued.

"I have come here to be with you to let you know there is hope. There is hope," he said.

Nearly ten years ago, Meredith's church was the site of a deadly attack that killed seven people and wounded seven others.

The Wedgwood attacker, Larry Gene Ashbrook, 47, had two guns, 200 rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb in his pockets when he went to a community youth rally at the church. After asking about the event, Ashbrook opened fire at a group sitting in the lobby and then kept shooting as he walked down a hall and into the sanctuary filled with several hundred people. He rolled his bomb down the aisle before killing himself.

On Sunday Meredith spoke of his experience at Wedgwood Baptist and also talked about the victims of the Sept. 15, 1999, attack.

"If you think you're going to go back to whatever normal was, that's not going to happen," Meredith said during one of the services on Sunday. "There is going to be a new normal."

At another service, Meredith similarly told the congregation that they were never going to get over what had happened last week.

"But, with God's grace, you're going to get through it," he added.

Meredith also encouraged the now shepherd-less flock to stick together and not let the tragedy tear their flock apart.

"Seven people were murdered in our church," the Texas pastor said. "But he took your shepherd in hopes that if he slaughtered the shepherd the sheep would scatter."

It remains unclear whether Sedlacek even knew Winters, a married 45-year-old father of two who led First Baptist for 22 years.

But authorities say Sedlacek appeared to have planned the attack, referring to Sunday as "death day" on a planner found in his Troy home and carrying enough ammunition to kill 30 people.

On Wednesday, Sedlacek pleaded not guilty to counts of murder and aggravated battery.