Some members of Holston Conference had connections or were nearby when the shootings occurred at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville on Sunday, July 27. Others, like Bishop James Swanson, were perplexed by the violence.
"This tragedy has brought hurt, pain, and despair to many persons and raises the age-old questions over the perplexity of evil and random violence," Swanson wrote in his blog on July 29. "We must face the fact that there is within us the potential to commit awful atrocities when we are disconnected from God." (Read the Bishop's blog.)
Two were killed and seven were injured when Jim David Adkisson, 58, allegedly opened
fire inside a room known as a sanctuary at the Knoxville church located near the University of Tennessee. John Worth, a member at Peck's Memorial United Methodist Church in Maryville District, was injured when a pellet from the weapon lodged in his right eye.
Worth, a retired phone company worker, told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he and his wife, Joy, were at the Unitarian Universalist church Sunday to see their granddaughter perform in a children's program. Worth is likely to have lost the vision in his injured eye. (Read the KNS story.)
The Rev. Tony Brown, pastor at Peck's Memorial, said that Worth had asked him not to discuss details related to his injury or the shootings.
"I visited him, I prayed with him, and that was good," Brown said. "I'm sure the church will be supportive of [Worth] because Peck's Memorial is known as a church that supports people in hard times."
Located within two blocks of the Unitarian church on Kingston Pike, First Knoxville UMC was the place where one person sought refuge after the shooting, according to the Rev. Dan Moore.
Moore also asked not to give details of the incident, in order to protect the person's privacy. But he said the victim came to the church about 11:15 a.m., in the middle of the 10:45 worship service.
"I am just glad she came here," Moore said. Some church members were late to the United Methodist worship service, he said, because the police and rescue crews stalled traffic on Kingston Pike.
Since then, First Knoxville's youth director, Matt Ramsland, has represented the congregation at a community worship service at Second Presbyterian Church. The Knoxville News Sentinel also contacted Moore to ask if his congregation had security measures in place to prevent such tragedies.
"We definitely need to look at that," Moore said. "But it's kind of hard to have 'open hearts, open minds, open doors' when the doors are locked. That will put you in a dilemma."
The staff of Church Street UMC, which is also located near the Unitarian church, was on retreat and could not be reached for comment. However, a part-time staff member and Church Street member, Loretta Best, said that she and her husband passed the fleet of emergency vehicles blocking the Unitarian church as they made their way home after Church Street's early service.
Later, Best learned that John Worth was one of the shooter's victims. Best is the wife of the Rev. Larry Best, a retired Holston clergy member who once served Peck's Memorial.
"To think you can't even go to church without something like this happening," Best said. "That's really sad."
John Shearer, a member at Church Street and a freelance writer for The Call, wrote about his encounter with the shootings for Chattanoogan.com. He and his wife, the Rev. Laura Shearer, had attended a special outdoor worship service at First Knoxville UMC on that Sunday morning.
"I had gone on to Sunday school and church at my regular church, Church Street United Methodist, on the other side of the UT campus. I heard a siren go by on at least one occasion, but did not think much about it.
"As I was getting ready to leave, a fellow church member said someone had gone into the Unitarian Universalist church up the road and began shooting. I suddenly had a sinking feeling in my heart and knew the tragedy would be national news."