When it comes to loving their neighbors, congregation at Johnson United Methodist Church in New Harmony knows there are no exclusions.
On September 18, 2021, Deputy Bryan Hicks responded to a welfare check at a home in New Harmony when tragedy struck. Deputy Hicks was shot and struck in the head when a man from inside the home opened fire. Deputy Hicks was then taken to an Evansville hospital where he was reported to be in critical but stable condition.
This southwest town with under 800 residents is in Posey County which had not had an officer-involved shooting since 1994. Not surprisingly, the community was rattled.
The shooting happened on the eve of a major town event, Kunstfest, a German heritage festival. On his way to the church for their worship service, part-time local pastor Randy Owens received a phone call from a congregant who served on the Kunstfest planning team, which wanted to open the event with a time of silence and prayer.
Owens rushed to church to speak to the congregation and adjust their worship time. “I wasn’t sure how many pastors would be there, but I was going to make sure there was one,” said Owens. After reading Psalm 23 to the gathered crowd, Owens led the community in prayer.
JUMC has led the community in caring for the Hicks family. The outreach ministry made a donation. The proceeds from the UMW’s booth at an upcoming crafts fair will also be donated. Many other residents and organizations in the community have also contributed.
JUMC congregants are intent on caring for all involved. The welfare check was called because of threats to endanger life in a domestic dispute, and the family of the alleged shooter is also in need.
“One thing I keep hearing is how we need to show love to everyone, including that family,” said Owens. “I’m proud of my church because whatever situation arises, they’re flexible. They want to respond and show love to everyone involved.”
When asked about how JUMC’s response is fruit of their Christian life, Owens reflected on the need to be visible Christians, rather than invisible.
“During a time of crisis, isn’t that a time when Christians need to step out? If there are people hurting, shouldn’t we be there? I was happy they stepped out in the name of the Lord. You can say a lot of words, but actions witness stronger,” said Owens.
Echoing the sentiment of John Wesley who regarded the world as his parish, Johnson United Methodist Church knows their community is part of their congregation. God has called them to love their neighbors—all of them—and they intend to be faithful.