Minister Dead And The Church Mourns
I’ve really struggled with the news of whether or not I should write about the death of Matthew Winkler, the preacher for the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee. But, I believe the story is one to share. Matthew was thirty-one years old and had been preaching for the congregation for thirteen months. The congregation loved and appreciated him and his family. Matthew and Mary had three young daughters and, for all appearances, were the perfect family. This was Matthew’s first “full-time” preaching position, after having been a youth minister for several years and different locations.
Last Wednesday night Matthew did not show up to assemble with the congregation and teach his class. Since he did not inform anyone that he would be absent, the congregation decided that something must be wrong. Several of them made the trip over to the church-owned house where he lived and tried desperately to get someone to the door. When all else failed, they let themselves in with a pass-key. They found the house quiet. While looking around, they found Matthew dead on the bedroom floor, shot in the back. He had been murdered. A sense of fear gripped those who found him and as they relayed the information to the congregation, a sense of unbelief struck every member. They were in shock.
Matthew’s wife Mary, and the children were nowhere to be found. That too was strange. An all out search began for the automobile, causing them to be found some hours later in the Gulf Coast of Alabama, nearly four hundred miles south of their home. When questioned by the police, Mary confessed to the murder of her husband. It was a tragic moment.
Matthew was the son of Dan Winkler of Freed-Hardeman University and the grandson of the late Wendell Winkler who spent his life preaching the Gospel to thousands all over the world.
This past Sunday was the first time the congregation had come together in assembly since Matthew’s death. It was a difficult time for every member. The children of the congregation placed a flower arrangement of sixty-two multicolored flowers in front of the pulpit, one for each child in the congregation, in memory of Matthew. He was so loved. Shocked and awed by the events of the past week, the church came together to reflect and pray and ask God for guidance. Dan, Matthew’s father spoke at a congregation about seventy miles away and reflected on his thankfulness for his son and the work he had done in his short life.
Back in Selmer, the church leaders encouraged the congregation to remain close and support one another, even Mary, Matthew’s wife who had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. They prayed for her, that she would repent before the Father and seek His forgiveness. They prayed for the children, whose custody had been given to Dan and Diane, Matthew’s parents. They were encouraged by one of the leaders to not become judges. “God’s people are called to be ministers and servants, not judges and juries”, said one of the deacons, Robert Shackelford. They were exhorted to keep away from speculation, which in turn, fuels gossip and rumors. They were told to lean on God, the only one who knows all of the why involved in this matter.
And, I want you to know that I am proud of this church. Many would blame and condemn, but they chose to minister and forgive. What a testimony to the love of Christ! What an awesome exhibition of love and devotion to a Holy and Righteous God and His ways. Three little girls are without their daddy or mommy right now and have fallen completely into the arms of love. Their lives will never be the same. Their whole world is turned upside down, but because others could put themselves aside, they were there to rescue them. Praise God!
We may never know why all of this took place in this peaceful little town in Tennessee, but we will always be assured of why the congregation responded this way. God is there. He is in the hearts of the people and when the unexpected strikes, He is seen. The evidence of His filling cannot be hidden. It will be noticed.
Who knows what will come from all of this. Sorrow will come for sure. Confusion will surely follow. But, the mighty work of God through His display in the lives of these believers might well draw many from all over the world where this story is told to The Faith. Remember that in every event of life there is always “The Higher Good.”
If you would like to keep up with this story from a Christian perspective, please feel free to visit the Christian Chronicle publication at http://www.christianchronicle.org and search for “Winkler”.