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Lessons From A Past Church Shooting Ring True Today

Al Meredith, retired pastor of Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church, in 2009
Associated Press
Al Meredith, retired pastor of Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church, in 2009

Texas is all too familiar with grief after a church shooting. Sunday's gunfire in suburban Fort Worth came two years after the deadliest church shooting in modern history, when 26 people died in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This weekend also revived memories of a shooting two decades ago at a Fort Worth church just 10 miles away.

It was September 1999, when a 47-year-old armed man walked into Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church. He opened fire killing seven people and wounding seven others before killing himself. Al Meredith, now retired, was senior pastor then. He learned some lessons then that he never wanted to, but may resonate now.

“You know at times like this, you need to be slow to speak and long on listening. Have people feel your feelings. Don't stuff them," Meredith says. "Don't try to tell people what they should feel, what they should think. Feelings just are."

In the 20 years since the Wedgwood shooting, he's seen church and school shootings grow in number and frequency. Meredith said he’s frustrated that churches no longer seem to be the sanctuaries they've been since ancient times.

"The barbarians, out of superstition or whatever, wouldn’t rush into the sanctuary to kill people because they didn’t want to upset the gods of the Christians. And that's why the word sanctuary became that — it was a safe place away from the violence," Meredith said. "We live in such a barbarian age that we don't even recognize the sanctity of the sanctuary. And violence occurs there and in our schools — places they should not take place, but they do."

Meredith does recognize changes made for safety, liked armed, trained officers in schools and volunteer security in his old church. Sunday, officials praised the armed parishioners in White Settlement for shooting the gunman and probably preventing more bloodshed. 

Just before 11 a.m. Sunday, an armed man walked into West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement and shot two parishioners.  Almost immediately one armed person in the church shot the gunman, as at least half a dozen others pulled out guns. Still, having armed security makes Meredith nervous.

"It could easily become a shootout at the OK Corral," he said. "That’s just the times we live in."

Meredith says he's praying for these times we live in, and for members of West Freeway Church of Christ.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. Heâââ