Unitarians Come Together for Peace After Church Shooting | Not in Our Town

Unitarians Come Together for Peace After Church Shooting


“Evil walked into the church, but love was stronger.” -Parishioner John Bohstedt,  who restrained the shooter at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

As a group of children sang for a crowded Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Knoxville, Tennessee, an armed man opened fire on the congregation on July 27, 2008. Before the gunman, Jim Adkisson, 58, was tackled to the ground by churchgoers, he fatally shot two people, Linda Lee Kraeger, 61, and Greg McKendry, 60, who witnesses said tried to block Adkisson in order to shield others from harm’s way. Six others were injured in the attack that authorities say was motivated in part by Adkisson’s disdain for the church’s positions.

The church has been a leader in racial justice efforts, and recently organized events for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens. The shooting, the first of its kind on a Unitarian church, has prompted an investigation by the FBI and local police, and Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen said it is being treated as a hate crime.

Immediately after the shooting, local and national church leaders called on the community to participate in a candlelight vigil. The next day more than 150 people of all faiths gathered at the Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, where the children’s choir closed out the rain-soaked vigil by singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from the production of Annie, Jr. — the song the children sang when Adkisson’s opened fire.

Unitarian churches across the country held similar vigils, and the national Unitarian Universalist Association set up a relief fund for the victims, raising tens of thousands of dollars.

At a re-dedication ceremony for the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church one week later, the Rev. Chris Buice asked the hundreds in attendance to join him in taking back the house of worship. “This sanctuary which has been defiled by violence, we rededicate to peace,” he said. Other area churches and local businesses provided food for a potluck lunch after the service; flowers came from local businesses and other Unitarian Universalist churches nationwide; and decorations, including ribbons of all colors of the rainbow and strung-together origami figures, were gifts from Webb School of Knoxville students.

Knoxville’s local music community has also taken a lead in responding to the tragic shooting. At simultaneous benefit concerts for the victims on Aug. 15, more than 20 bands and artists performed at one, and across town, musician Randy Owen, lead singer of Alabama, put on his own concert. “It doesn’t matter what your beliefs. We just wanted to do something to stand with these folks,” Owen told Country Music Television.

Rev. Chris Buice speaks to the media (from the Knoxville News)

Redication of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (from the Knoxville News)

To learn more about the response:

Knoxville News Sentinel’s Full Coverage of the Church Shooting

Share thoughts with family and friends of the victims on The Knoxville News’ Public Guestbook

Transcript of the July 28, 2008 Vigil in Knoxville (from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations)

Unitarian Universalists Respond to Knoxville Shooting Disaster (from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations)


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