Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fire Forges Friendships Between Pastors and Even with Perpetrator

When fire swept through The Memorial Baptist Church a decade ago, Randy McKinney had only been pastor there for six months. He was still working to get to know many people.

But through that fire, McKinney forged friendships outside the walls of the church, friendships that most likely never would have been kindled if not for the tragedy.

One of those friendships was with Sidney Locks, then pastor of Greenville's Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church. Locks and his congregation crossed racial and denominational lines in 2007 when they left their church the morning after the fire to stand with Memorial Baptist and pray outside the burned building.

Fire Forges Friendships Between Pastors and Even with Perpetrator

The other was with Seth Parker Price, the Farmville man charged with setting the fire. McKinney, who served as Memorial's pastor for four years, visited Price in prison to share his Christian faith and to offer forgiveness.

McKinney attempted to reach out to Parker after Parker's conviction in December 2007. It would take six weeks or more before McKinney would be able to visit the man who caused more than $1 million in damage to the church, displacing the congregation from its sanctuary for a year. McKinney was considered a victim of Parker's crime, and the prison system often prohibits contact between criminals and their victims.

“It took quite some time to get through the red tape to be able to go,” McKinney said. “I had to work my way up to the warden in the prison to convince him to let me visit with him.”

Once allowed, McKinney made the 130-mile round trip to Odom Correctional Institution near Jackson once a month. Parker, who was 28 years old when he was sentenced to 11-13 years for setting fires at Memorial and Unity Free Will Baptist Church, was later moved to a prison in Greene County.
McKinney continued those visits for four years until he moved from Greenville to Raleigh to become pastor of Longview Baptist Church.

“I know for me, personally, it was important for me to communicate to him that although he had made a horrible decision that affected certainly many lives including his own and his family's life, that I cared about him and God loved him and cared about him as well,” McKinney said. “I didn't want him to lose sight of that in the midst of a bad decision.”

McKinney said Parker, who expressed remorse for his actions, had little contact with his family after he was incarcerated. When Parker's wife filed for divorce, Parker called McKinney to be a character witness.

Parker, now 37, is now being held in Rutherford Correctional Center. He is slated for release in February 2020.

Rick Bailey, former associate pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church, told those gathered Sunday to recognize the 10th anniversary of the fire that few people, even in the church, knew of McKinney's relationship with Parker.

“He fleshed out the gospel is what he did,” said Bailey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmville. “Not many people would do that.

“We don't have any idea what kind of impression and mark that made in the life of that young man,” Bailey said. “But I'm thankful Randy took the initiative to do that.”

McKinney is grateful for the leadership that Locks showed when he reached out to Memorial. Though the churches had experienced few, if any, formal interactions before January 2007, the fire changed that.

“Pastor Locks and several members of his congregation just appeared with us,” McKinney recalled. “I remember Sidney grabbing me by the neck and saying, 'This didn't just happen to you; this happened to the body of Christ. This happened to the church, so that's why we're here.' From that point on it was just a tremendous bond that grew.”

Cornerstone offered its sanctuary for members of Memorial Baptist to worship. Members of Memorial Baptist joined Cornerstone in prison ministry efforts.

Even after McKinney's move to Raleigh, he and Locks have remained friends. They have spoken together at Duke Divinity School about improved race relations among churches. Locks has preached sermons from the pulpit of Longview Baptist.

“It certainly led to a deep relationship the two of us have shared,” McKinney said.

The friendships that emerged from the fire remind McKinney of a passage in the book of Genesis when Joseph expresses forgiveness to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, by saying, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

“In the midst of a tragic event like a fire to a church, or in other kinds of tragedies, good can come out of it,” McKinney said. “Just as Memorial Baptist kind of rose out of the ashes, just because we experience difficulties and tragedies in life, that doesn't define or have the final word. We certainly can rise out of the ashes as well, and hopefully be better because of it




4 comments:

  1. They are not really friends. When you see areal friend in friendship you will know.

    ReplyDelete
  2. when you have a friend and he does'nt care about you, you better withdraw!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that advice, Its as simple as that, because we are in a wicked world

      Delete