It’s been 10 years since the murder of Maryville First Baptist’s Pastor Fred Winters. Illinois Baptists were shocked when the beloved pastor was gunned down while preaching the Sunday morning message from the pulpit.
Serving on the IBSA staff, I first got to know Pastor Fred when he served two terms as IBSA vice president and then another two as president. He was always easy going and willing to answer questions for articles in the Illinois Baptist. I remember running into him and his wife, Cindy, one year at the Southern Baptist Convention where they were planning to hand out water to gay rights supporters protesting the convention. He talked about how it would be a good way to show Christ’s love.
First Baptist Maryville recently held a memorial service to mark the anniversary of his death. I was among the hundreds who attended the service, looking on as old friends came together to remember the pastor who grew the church from 35 to over 1,200. Illinois pastors have often said how Pastor Fred’s teaching from his experience “breaking the barriers” enabled them to grow stronger churches. Fred was always willing to share of his experience and himself.
In video testimonies, friends, church members, and former staff bore witness to the difference Pastor Fred had made in their lives, how his burden for the lost became their burden for the lost, how his vision became their vision.
The most poignant moment of the evening came when Cindy addressed the assembly. She shared how she and her daughters, with God’s help, journeyed through their grief and continue to do so. Their faith has been made stronger having learned not to give up.
Still, she likened the evening to biting into a chocolate tomato—“sweet at first on the outside and kind of sour and bitter on the inside.” Such a strange comparison and yet, such a truism. Isn’t that how we all feel in some way? Not only about Pastor Fred, but our own lost loved ones remembered? Whether through death, divorce, separation, or other kinds of loss, what a taste remembrance can leave in your mouth.
Winters’s life and legacy of faith was worthy of celebration. At the end of the service, it was easy to imagine Pastor Fred among the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, cheering Illinois Baptists on as they run the race sharing Christ with their friends and neighbors just like he did.