Pitting prayers against bullets, an armed intrusion at a church on New Year’s Eve ended in peace.
At a eastern North Carolina congregation Thursday night, an emotionally distraught man walked in with a rifle in one hand and ammunition in the other. But it did not turn into a scene of terror. Instead, hugs and prayers ensued, and the man stayed for the rest of the service before being taken into custody by police.
Pastor Larry Wright, city councilman and the head of the Heal the Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville, N.C., had been delivering a sermon on violence in his community when the armed man entered the church.
He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s, and with his rifle pointed upward, he walked towards the pulpit. When Pastor Wright, a retired army sergeant, realized the weapon and the ammunition were real, he stepped down and approached the man.
“Can I help you?’’ he asked him, as reported by the Fayetteville Observer.
It turned out, the man had been pacing outside the church before entering. He told the audience that God had delivered a message to him: He was to go to the church before he did something bad.
In front of 60 members in attendance, Wright was able to calm and disarm the man.
"I'm the first person to see him and when I saw him, I thought it was a dummy gun, but then I saw the bullet clip in his hand and the bullets were shining," he told CNN. If the man was hostile, the pastor said, he would’ve tackled him with his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame.
But the man, whom the police has yet to identify, remained calm. He asked for Wright to pray for him and shared his story. He was recently released from prison.
Wright proceeded to take his rifle and handed it to a deacon. Three other deacons came forward, and the four hugged the man.
"And then I began to minister to him and pray to him and talk with him," Wright said. The man fell to his knees and broke into tears. He was invited to stay for the rest of the service in the front pew. When police arrived to the scene, they were asked to remain outside until service ended. Police Department spokesman Lt. David McLaurin told the Observer that he was voluntarily admitted to a nearby hospital afterwards.
According to 2006 Justice Bureau statistics, over one-third of state prisoners, a quarter of Federal prisoners, and one in six jail inmates are believed to have mental health problems. For state prisoners who have been incarcerated three or more times, 61 percent have been diagnosed with mental illness.
"It's so hard to describe, to explain the excitement and love of God in the room. This man came in to do harm and he has given his life to Christ," Wright said.
Sylvester Loving, a church deacon, said that they had been discussing violence in churches that night, right before the man came in.
“I think that night the spirit of God was definitely in the place,” Mr. Loving said.