Police shootings thrust S.D. church into spotlight

Baptist Press
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Posted: Aug 11, 2011 6:22 PM
Police shootings thrust S.D. church into spotlight
RAPID CITY, S.D. (BP) -- Some youngsters -- including the pastor's -- had just run across the street from New Beginnings Baptist Church to the parsonage for a drink of water when the shoot-out began. Others were still in the church parking lot.

When three police officers on patrol in Rapid City, S.D., stopped a group of four men weaving down the sidewalk in front of the church about 4:30 p.m., one pulled out a concealed handgun and began shooting; police returned fire. Despite wearing protective vests, one officer died at the scene and another died Sunday. The third, released a week after the incident, has a jaw wired shut from the melee.

Also dead: the only one of the four men who fired a weapon, a Native American, who died days later in the hospital.

Truman Savery, pastor of New Beginnings since last October, has been ministering to the community, the police officers' and the Native American's family and friends and to the church family since the Aug 2 sidewalk shootout.

"I've been ministering to both groups," Savery said of the incident that has become racially charged. "It's been really tense for my family and me. I had to sit them down and tell them that I love them, but I have to do what I'm called to do, and that's to be a person there for healing and counseling and to care for each person."

Savery -- a bivocational pastor and unemployed music teacher now studying for a special education certificate -- has faced intense media scrutiny with courage and compassion at the same time that he's been ministering non-stop, said John Little, pastor of Rapid Valley Baptist Church in Rapid City.

"Because the shooting took place more or less on the lawn of the church, it has thrust Truman and the church in the media spotlight," Little said. "For anybody to be having several cameras and microphones jammed into your face for the first time, that's kind of rough.

"This is a church that's had to struggle to exist anyway," Little said. "It's a mixture of two old churches: Knollwood and Inter-Tribal. It's a struggling church in a struggling neighborhood.

"But the news media has shown New Beginnings in a good light … showing that a Baptist church in Rapid City is caring for people."

New Beginnings hosted a prayer vigil the evening after the shooting, which about 200 people attended, including the mayor and police chief. A second prayer vigil took place Monday, Aug. 8, after the second officer died.

Each of the slain officers has been memorialized by a mound of signs, flowers and stuffed animals. At the request of the Native American's family, several attempts have been made for a mound in his memory, but each time it has been quickly torn down by angry townspeople.

"There's a lot of pain on both sides," Savery said. "People are taking out their anger on Native Americans, and some Native Americans are retaliating. … I've been trying to help both sides and it's been putting me in the hot seat."

Even so, the pastor said, "We have to have people accepting each other." In private conversations and in his preaching, he said his message has been of the need for healing -- and that Jesus is the Great Healer.

New Beginnings, in an older, northern part of Rapid City, regularly ministers to a steady flow of people needing financial and emotional help as much as spiritual help, said Little, moderator of the Black Hills Area Baptist Association.

"Not everybody is thrilled with what Truman is doing in all this," Little said. "But even before this all happened, there's really not a day goes by that a person doesn't ask for help . …

"This is a chance for to minister in a high-profile, tangible way to a community that's really suffering," Little said, noting, "This is the first on-duty death of a police officer at a crime scene since 1916, and before that it was 1885."

About 55 people participate in Sunday morning worship at New Beginnings.

"It's been really stressful but I believe God is preparing our church, preparing me, for what we're going through," Savery said.

"I've built more relationships in the last week than I would have in 20 years because of this tragedy, with the mayor, chief of police, council members and all the organizations in the area, and that usually doesn't happen overnight. It did this time."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, official newsjournals for those state conventions.

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