Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hate Crime at Unitarian Universalist Church

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
-John 15:13

Last Sunday, members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and the Westside Unitarian Universalist Fellowship were gathered together in the their church's sanctuary watching a group of children give a performance in front of the congregation. Suddenly, a man named Jim Adkisson storms in with a rifle in a guitar case and begins to start shooting into the crowd. Greg McKendry, a 60 year-old foster parent and church usher, reacted immediately by taking a bullet to the chest in order to shield the people that Adkisson was aiming at. His sacrifice gave congregation members more time to get out of the line of fire and escape next door. Adkisson fired over a handful more shots before three men were able to jump on top of him while he re-loaded.

About McKendry, one article wrote:

Brian Griffin, the church's youth director, said it's not surprising that witnesses reported McKendry jumped in front of the shooter in an apparent effort to save others.

"Greg was on some kind of mission, I guess, and part of the mission was to be there at that moment," Griffin said.

Griffin said McKendry, who worked part-time for Pinnacle Airlines, routinely did good deeds for others.

"He found out my daughter, Miriam, was about to go away to college," Griffin said. "Without anybody asking, he showed up with boxes. In my car today are the boxes Greg brought so Miriam could pack up to go to college."

Not only that, Griffin said, but McKendry also researched shipping rates so Griffin could get the best deal whenever he had to send items to his daughter.

"All of this he did on his own without people asking him," Griffin said.

Griffin said McKendry also put up light fixtures and undertook projects to make the church more energy efficient.

"He's the kind of guy who wouldn't hesitate at all to try to do something to help, no matter what happened," said Bill Dockery, who served on committees with McKendry at the church. "If he saw a problem, he was going to confront it."

Greg McKendry was an amazing man and so was the other victim, Linda Kraeger. Kraeger, a retired professor and author of several books, was active in her family and church community for many years and was at the church that morning to see the children's performance. According to Kraeger's neice,

"She had a beautiful laugh, a huge smile. When she laughed she would throw her head back.

"When I was little, I used to go spend a week during the summer at her house.

"She was really funny and really nice. … She was very cultured and very grown-up which I thought was really cool when I was a kid. I would have these wonderful conversations with her."

Sarah over at Orcinus has a beautiful tribute to the Unitarian Universalist church that tells of its rich history of welcoming people of all kinds. You simply must read it:

Of Madmen and Martyrs

Those who would like to show support for the affected church and its members can check out this website that has been set up where you can leave messages and get updates about what you can do to help:

Supporting Our Friends in Knoxville

My mother-in-law's New Year's resolution was to visit the local Unitarian Universalist church in her city. The German and I had looked into it and meant to check it out but never got around to it. I think that this would be an excellent time for us to follow through with that intention and I'd encourage anyone else to do so, too, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. They deserve to know that people of goodwill support them in this difficult time.


Bob said...

Thank you for this sensitive and well-expressed blog. You've helped me as I prepare to lead a service for the Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship here in Australia in which we'll deal with many of the issues you have addressed so compassionately. Gays, non-dominant racial groups, and liberals first... In this year, 2008, all progressives of good will had better stand together if freedom is to survive. Agreed?

-- Bob (one of

bint alshamsa said...

I definitely agree, Bob. We need each other. This tragedy has really impressed me because of how Unitarian Universalists have reacted to what happened. I haven't seen a single one crying out for revenge or expressing a hope that Adkisson receives the death penalty. This has given me the chance to learn so much more about your faith tradition that I am thankful for those who remain committed to your values even when atrocities like this occur.

This whole world is in peril and unless enough good-hearted people work together, I think our survival is definitely threatened.

My heart goes out to you and your brethren. I will keep you in my prayers.

Cam-a-lam said...


I just found your blog and I really like it. I just did an art piece for class on The Princess and the Frog and was delighted to see your perspective on the film. And oddly enough, you look just like the graduate school mentor I had my freshman year of college. If you don't mind, I'm going to link to your blog so that I can share it with my friends.