Few places were as meaningful to Lillian Wilson as Central United Methodist Church just outside Wynne.
She was baptized and married there. She started teaching Sunday school recently to help out while the church’s longtime teacher recovered from a stroke.
And on Sunday morning, June 6, the 80-year-old retired nurse was in the church to finish assembling disaster relief buckets and health kits for collection at the denomination’s Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference meeting, which started Sunday night.
It was her last act of servanthood. She was found beaten to death in the church sanctuary that afternoon.
Investigators with the sheriff’s office in Cross County, Ark., were still searching June 8 for two suspects in Wilson’s death. Her pastor, the Rev. Dixon Platt, said authorities believe the murder weapon was the cross the church kept on its communion table.
Platt went to check on Wilson when she didn’t show up for worship Sunday at nearby Ellis Chapel United Methodist Church. The congregation of about 20 alternates worship each Sunday between Ellis Chapel and Central Church.
The pastor discovered Wilson’s body about 12:30 p.m. Sunday beneath an overturned pew. Her purse and car were missing.
Wilson died doing what she loved to do, Platt said, and that was serving God.
Oh please don’t tell me he said that! So many folks are going to be upset that this woman died, (btw – she didn’t simply die – she was MURDERED!) and the fact that she died in this way in this place is going to complicate grief for the people within the church she attended, people in our churches, and the people who don’t attend church. It is a delicate and difficult time for this church, but maybe some of us can learn from Ms. Wilson’s death as well as her life.
As pastor’s we tend to want to take the high road and say things like, “She is at rest now” or “She “died doing what she loved to do””. Those comments are not enough for our congregants who are asking the bigger question, “WHY?” I think we need to say things like, we don’t know why people do horrible things to each other, I don’t know why someone did this to Ms. Wilson, I don’t know why – I don’t have the answers. Too often pastors think they must lead people into healing or beyond this tragedy or even past this experience. To each of us, pastors and everyday folks that think the same way, I ask – WHY? Why are we in a hurry to brush aside the tragedy and want to look at only the comfortable aspects of life?
My thinking jumps to the next question, how does a response such as the one stated by Rev. Platt witness to the greater community the love of God for all people in the community? From my slightly slanted perspective I see a closed door attitude, a piousness, an attitude to the unchurched that says, “Well, AT LEAST she lived a life worthy so she will be … (fill in the blank – honored, redeemed, given vengeance … whatever the other feels is needed in their life and hoped for in their death). Possibly a better statement would be, we join the community in grieving her death and the violent manner in which she died and we are available to talk or listen to anyone who has questions. Maybe, possibly.
But I like what Bishop Crutchfield said:
Arkansas Area Bishop Charles Crutchfield asked those gathered for annual conference on June 7 to pray for Wilson and the many in her community who loved her.
“This is a tragic moment for a wonderful woman devoted to the life of the church and building God’s kingdom, a woman who had been the heart and soul of her church,” Crutchfield said in an interview.
“At moments like this, we ask ‘Why? Why?’ And there is no real answer to that question,” he said. “But I do know the question we need to ask is who do we trust in a moment of tragedy, in a moment so inexplicable. I think our answer would be her answer: Trust the Lord through high points and low points, through good times and through the valley of the shadow of death. In the wake of this tragic death, that’s who we all have to trust.” (Italics added)
That’s all we’ve got to offer anyone in a moment of grief, a season of grief. If we believe in God through the good times, if we trust God in the good times, if we have faith in God in the good times, then the way to find ourselves able to survive and live though the tough times is to continue to trust him in those times also.
Keep the faith my friends.