Publication:Kingsport Times-News; Date:Jul 29, 2008; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A

Area churches reach out to Knoxville congregation


    GRAY — The Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray, along with other area churches, is reaching out to members of a church congregation in Knoxville where a deadly shooting happened on Sunday.

    The shooting, which occurred at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, claimed the lives of Greg McKendry, 60, and Linda Kraeger, 61. Seven others were seriously injured in the incident.

    Witnesses said Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell, walked into the church with a shotgun and started firing. In a four-page letter, Adkisson expressed hatred of the church’s support of liberal social policies.

    Gerald Frye, a former member of the Tennessee Valley UUC now living in Johnson City, said many people harbor ill will toward the church without knowing much about it.

    “Most people have never heard of it and don’t know what it is,” Frye said. “It’s not uncommon at all for people to have strong negative feelings on the type of church it is and the kind of community outreach they do.”

    Many times people confuse the church’s liberal stance on religion with being politically liberal, said the Rev. Jacqueline Luck of the Holston Valley UUC.

    “I think a lot of people have a preconceived idea when they hear
about a liberal church,” she said. “We have members that are both conservative and liberal politically, but to be a liberal religious body means that you believe it’s good to question and use your reason in determining your faith.

    “People lump liberal politics and liberal religion together and don’t realize they are two separate things.”

    The Universalist Unitarian Church worships God but draws from truths from other world religions as well, Luck said. It also promotes diversity and welcomes people regardless of their religious background or other beliefs.

    “I think we practice the golden rule, which asks us to love our neighbor, “ she said. “Diversity is something we appreciate and that enriches our congregation, whether it’s diversity of beliefs, racial, economic and gender identity diversity.”

    Luck said she was horrified when she first learned of the shooting and drove to Knoxville that afternoon to help in any way she could. She returned to the Tri-Cities Sunday evening before heading back to Knoxville on Monday to lend further support and participate in a candlelight vigil for the victims.

    According to Luck, members of three UU churches — the Oak Ridge, West Knoxville and Tennessee Valley congregations — were in the church when the shooting occurred.

    “I felt horror and great sadness and wondered ‘What can I do to help?’ ” she said. “I think that’s the experience we all had when we heard that news.

    “I made some phone calls for them because that’s all I could do at that moment, and I went on over there (to the hospital) Sunday afternoon.”

    While the tragedy didn’t directly affect her church, Luck said the outpouring of support in this area for them and the Knoxville-area congregations has been impressive.

    Churches in the area have given their sympathy, she said, and others, like Chalmer Harper at Christian radio station WCQR, have called to lend their assistance by getting the word out on how his listeners can help.

    “That was so very openhearted and generous of him,” she said of Harper’s offer to help. “I was very touched.”

    The Rev. John Shuck of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton attended a vigil held on Sunday at Holston Valley UUC and even led the proceedings when Luck was delayed in Knoxville ministering to the families of the victims.

    It’s during times like these that churches need to work together and be there for others, Shuck said.

    “I’m pleased to know a lot of the churches are working across lines,” he said. “At this time, all of those denominational lines fade a w a y. ”

    Shuck said he had also reached out to the Knoxville church and is trying to see what else he can do to help.

    “I have contacted the pastor there and offered him our support in any way,” he said. “I’ll also be talking to folks in our Presbytery to see if there’s something we can offer at that level that is tangible.”

    While the support and prayers help, Luck said being able to forgive is what will help people move on.

    “We’re praying not only for those in our sister congregations and the families of those that were hurt and viewed this,” she said, “but also for him and his family. Doing that helps the healing.

    “But at the same time, justice should prevail, and I think that it will.”

Associated Press Chris Schubert and her 4-year-old son Nick pause Monday afternoon as they place a bouquet of flowers at the sign in front of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.