One year after the tragic murder of a Huntsville, Alabama, pastor in his church, Christians have discovered a new unity in adversity.
On October 26, a jury convicted Eileen Janeciz, 36, of the August 1993 murder of Jerry Simon, 52. Janeciz entered Simon's office at the interdenominational charismatic Valley Fellowship Church and shot him in the chest and back.
Despite the tragedy, Simon's widow, Carol, says that many people have unexpectedly returned to local churches in the aftermath of the killing. For in-stance, an investigating police officer at the murder scene later told Carol Simon that he and his family are now faithful church members.
In addition, about a dozen new prayer groups have formed. Joel McGraw, pastor of Faith Chapel, says that following the unprovoked assault on Simon, 60 pastors signed a "solemn covenant" of prayer support and mutual encouragement.
"After Jerry's death, I think that was part of the call," McGraw says. "Not to just get in our own corner and say, '[God], protect me and don't let this happen to me,' but [to] stand together as brothers and sisters, with one mission and purpose to the city and area."
"Denominational lines have started to fall more than ever," says Carl Turner, a businessman who coordinates the city's Concerts of Prayer. In August, 1,500 people attended a prayer event. "I think there's a heightened awareness of prayer and spiritual matters."
The Simons' older son, Greg, says the Lord has enabled the family to avoid bitterness and hatred toward Janeciz. "Forgiving her was much easier than I thought it would be, because I understood that she is not the enemy," he says. "The Bible makes it clear that we wrestle not against flesh and blood."
Simon, a former Southern Baptist missionary, had been a community leader in an effort to unite different churches and pastors in spiritual renewal. Janeciz attended services at Valley Fellowship in 1984 after Simon became pastor. She had been a churchgoer before she was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1989.
Before her arrest, Janeciz held police at bay for eight hours, reading passages from Anton LeVay's Satanic Bible.
Copyright © 1994 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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