GARDENDALE — A congregation which has been rocked by a worship musician charged with online-sex crimes, followed closely by the murder of the senior pastor's wife, has left Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church parishioners in a state of shock.
The denomination's presiding bishop sought to reassure members Sunday morning, as she addressed all three worship services just three days after the church pastor was charged in the shooting of his wife and daughter.
"You are not alone. We are not alone. God is in the boat with us," said The Rev. Debra Wallace-Padgett, who presides over the North Alabama Conference.
Wallace-Padgett derived the analogy with a boat from the word "nave," the portion of a church sanctuary in which worshippers sit, and which is also the Latin word for a boat. That tied into her Scripture passage from Mark 4:35-40, where Jesus is said to have calmed a storm with the words, "Peace, be still," in a boat while crossing the Sea of Galilee.
"He's in that boat, and we're with Him. What a difference that makes!" Wallace-Padgett said.
Wallace-Padgett, who was promoted to bishop and appointed to her post in September after pastoring a church in Lexington, Ky., was the leader of a contingent from the North Alabama Conference. The group included a team of counselors put in place to help church members deal with the shooting tragedy.
The mood of two of the three Sunday services was somber, but different. The contemporary-worship service, which is held in the church family-life center, stayed with downbeat but uplifting music. Attendees came to the altar during that time for prayer and to comfort one another. Near the end of the service, one member called aloud, "God is good!" Others instantly responded, "All the time."