Wilson was ‘heart of the church,’ says pastor07-02-2010
United Methodist News Service
HOT SPRINGS — Few places were as meaningful to Lillian Wilson as Central United Methodist Church just outside Wynne.
She was baptized and married there. She made sure the communion elements were always prepared each month and recently started teaching Sunday school to help out while the church’s longtime teacher recovered from a stroke.
And on Sunday morning, June 6, the 80-year-old retired nurse was in the church to finish assembling disaster relief buckets and health kits for collection at the denomination’s Arkansas Annual Conference meeting, which started that night.
It was her last act of servanthood. She was found beaten to death in the church sanctuary that afternoon.
Investigators with the sheriff’s office in Cross County were still searching June 8 for two suspects in Wilson’s death. Her pastor, Dixon Platt, said authorities believe the murder weapon was the cross the church kept on its communion table.
Platt went to check on Wilson when she didn’t show up for worship Sunday at nearby Ellis Chapel United Methodist Church. The congregation of about 20 alternates worship each Sunday between Ellis Chapel and Central Church.
The pastor discovered Wilson’s body about 12:30 p.m. June 6 beneath an overturned pew. Her purse and car were missing.
Wilson died doing what she loved to do, Platt said, and that was serving God.
“Lil — everyone called her Lil — was the heart of the church,” he said. “Lil just very quietly, very unassumingly lived out her Christian faith and encouraged others to do the same.”
In a church of mostly retirees, Wilson did almost every kind of ministry at some point. In addition to teaching Sunday school, she was the church treasurer and its staff-parish committee chair.
“Her church was everything to her,” said Mary Anne Cruthirds, her friend and fellow church member. “If ever I or anyone else needed help, she would be there.”
The Rev. Kurt Boggan, district superintendent, said Wilson spoke for the entire group when he met with members of Central and the two other churches in the charge last year to talk about what they were looking for in their next pastor.
“She said, ‘We need a pastor who has a Methodist presence,’” Boggan recalled.
A few months after Platt arrived, Wilson called Boggan to report on her new pastor. “We’ve got a fine one,” she said.
“This is the kind of person she was,” Platt said, “My father died last year after I’d only been here for a short while. Lil and another church member came to the funeral to give me comfort. That meant the world to me.”
Her devotion to following Christ’s example extended beyond her local congregation.
Central wasn’t big enough to have its own United Methodist Women’s group, so Wilson became active with the group at Wynne First United Methodist Church. On Communion Sunday each month, Wilson organized a collection of groceries at Central and Ellis Chapel for the food pantry at the larger Wynne congregation.
She also volunteered as a greeter at Cross County Hospital and helped out at the local animal shelter. She had a sign that said “We Love Animals” outside her home, Platt said.
Still in shock, her fellow church members gathered on Sunday to pray and weep together. They met outside the church, which was covered in yellow police tape.
Arkansas Area Bishop Charles Crutchfield asked those gathered for annual conference on June 7 to pray for Wilson and the many in her community who loved her.
“This is a tragic moment for a wonderful woman devoted to the life of the church and building God’s kingdom, a woman who had been the heart and soul of her church,” Crutchfield said in an interview.
“At moments like this, we ask ‘Why? Why?’ And there is no real answer to that question,” he said. “But I do know the question we need to ask is who do we trust in a moment of tragedy, in a moment so inexplicable. I think our answer would be her answer: Trust the Lord through high points and low points, through good times and through the valley of the shadow of death. In the wake of this tragic death, that’s who we all have to trust.”
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.