By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
Karen Dunn said her church, which has been plunged into tragedy, is not beyond hope.
“We can heal,” she said. “Things will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be strong.”
Dunn has been a member of Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church (UMC) for nine years.
The church was rocked on Thursday following a shooting and stabbing incident involving the pastor, Rev. Dr. Terry Greer, and his family.
Gardendale Police Chief Mike Walker said Greer shot his wife, Lisa, 52, and daughter, Suzanna, 18, with a pistol at their home, which is the church parsonage.
Police say Suzanna wrestled the gun from her father and ran to a neighbor’s house, where the neighbor called 911. That is when Terry Greer went to a bathroom in the home and stabbed himself repeatedly with a kitchen knife in the chest and neck, according to police.
Lisa Greer died later that night of her wounds. Suzanna and Terry Greer were both listed in stable condition by Friday.
Terry Greer is being charged with murder and attempted murder.
That incident came on the heals of another tragedy that devastated the church. Two weeks before the murder, one of the church’s worship leaders, Joel Kent Hodges, 31, was arrested on charges of electronic solicitation of a child and traveling to meet a child for an unlawful sex act
Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC is shaken, but Dunn said it is not broken.
“We are definitely being buffeted around in a storm, but Jesus is our anchor,” she said. “We are anchored very strong.”
Dunn said the church is pulling together as a family and that the members are drawing comfort from each other.
She spent time at the church Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and was there on Sunday to “greet people with a smile” as they went to services. Dunn said there was much confusion as people were not sure whether to go to Sunday school classes or to visit the counselors that the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church provided.
“We helped them sort out where to go, to keep things as normal as possible in an abnormal time,” Dunn said. “That’s where we draw strength; leaning on others. If you have the ability to give a word of encouragement instead of discouragement, that’s what you should do.”
Dunn did not know the Rev. Greer well, but recalls that he sat by her at a Greater Gardendale Chamber of Commerce luncheon not long after he and his family arrived in Gardendale in June. She pointed out individuals to him and helped him get to know people in the community.
“He put himself into situations where he could meet people. He didn’t avoid that,” Dunn said.
Greer had not been in the pulpit much since October due to health problems, but Dunn said he had a very good reputation as a man who cared about people.
“He was a highly thought of person,” she said.
The North Alabama Conference is being a big source of support to the church. The conference has said it will provide counselors for a year, if needed.
The media spokesperson for the conference was unavailable for comment by press deadline Tuesday; she was attending Lisa Greer’s funeral.
Dunn said she and other church members are also drawing support from the community.
On the morning after the shooting, Dunn went to the Chick-fil-A restaurant in Gardendale for breakfast. When she got to the counter, she was in tears and could not talk. She held out her arms, and two of the male employees embraced her and prayed for her, for Gardendale-Mt. Vernon UMC and for the Greer family.