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Three days after deadly shooting, Nashville church holds first service

Church member Danny Carter leads attendees in song during a Wednesday service at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., on Sept. 27, 2017. The service was the first held in the church since Sunday's shooting. Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean

ANTIOCH, Tenn. (USA Today) — The carpet has been pulled up from the floor of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.

Five of its congregants, including the minister, remain hospitalized for gunshot wounds.

Those who aren’t hospitalized planned to attend a funeral Thursday (Sept. 28) for Melanie Crow, who was killed as she walked out of church Sunday.

But on Wednesday night, they filed into Burnette Chapel’s fellowship hall, the same room where some had waited for hours Sunday as local police and federal agents combed through evidence left behind when a masked man opened fire, wounding seven and killing one.

Midweek service went on as it does every Wednesday at 7 p.m., though the church is still figuring out what to do with an auditorium in disarray and the cluster of reporters that continued to hover.

Catherine Dickerson slipped into the back of the fellowship hall as the room sang “It Is Well With My Soul,” a hymn about keeping the faith regardless of hardship.

Dickerson, who was shot in her left thigh Sunday, sang along.

As speakers and prayer leaders took to the front of the room, she rested her leg on a chair and closed her eyes.

 “We want to claim the promise that if you’re for us, no one can be against us,” prayed Scott Sager, Lipscomb University’s vice president for church services, quoting Scripture. 

Dickerson briefly raised her hand toward heaven.

“You, who did not spare your own son, but sent him into the world.”

Sager was among those from the community who responded Sunday to New Beautiful Gate Church, a neighboring congregation in Antioch where some victims were reunited with their families.

“We confess that the words of Jesus, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?’ have been words we’ve spoken over the last few days,” Sager continued. “We pray, Lord, that you would remind us of your presence.”

As the congregation — including a handful of guests — gathered inside, a Metro police officer and members of the Nashville Fire Department waited outside.

Standing in the church parking lot, Nashville fire Assistant Chief Walker Demonbreun was no stranger to Burnette Chapel.

He lives across the street.

On Sunday, as he was working a shift for the Fire Department, the call about a shooting with multiple casualties was originally dispatched with his address.

“I thought it was my wife and my grandkids,” Demonbreun said.

Even though the shooter had opened fire at the church across the street, the tragedy was still personal.

“I knew everybody who has been shot,” he said, explaining that his wife, Pam, had grown up in Burnette Chapel, and many of the church’s members live nearby. “They were all friends and neighbors. We’ve been neighbors for 30-something years.”

As for next steps for the church, Burnette Chapel plans to resume its regular services in its fellowship hall, despite Minister Joey Spann’s still being in recovery.

Church elders hope to have a grief counselor on hand Sunday.

Firefighters very well may wait outside again at that service, Demonbreun said. Metro police wanted church members to feel comfortable, as well.

“We just want to let them know we’re here with them,” said Sgt. Robert Hanson. “And we want them to know that they’re safe.”

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Natalie Allison

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  • Though no sense can be made of such an event, the members of the church are correct even as they grieve, to continue to place their trust in the Savior.

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