FORT WORTH--"It is good to know that God is with us even in the line of fire."

That expression of grief and faith was scribbled by a church youth on the concrete floor of Wedgwood Baptist Church after the bloody night of gunfire there last Sept. 15. More recently, an expression of grief that has turned into a moment of healing was received by the church from the family of the man who killed seven people and wounded seven others there--before taking his own life.

Larry Gene Ashbrook, the gunman who opened fire at the church, had grown up in the Churches of Christ, historic rivals of Southern Baptists in towns across Texas and the Southeast. The two religious groups have disagreed sharply on finer points of salvation and worship.

But when Aaron Ashbrook, the assailant's surviving brother, handed over $10,000 to Wedgwood from the sale of the trashed Fort Worth property where his brother had lived, the family experienced some much-needed closure.

He met the Southern Baptist church's senior pastor Al Meredith at the Altamesa Church of Christ, about a mile and half from the murder site, in an act that also marked a milestone in new relations between the divergent congregations.

Meredith, in an interview, said the $10,000 gift consisted of three checks from Ashbrook and two sisters, so that "each one of the family members donated their portion of the inheritance to the church."

Ashbrook still could not bring himself to visit the place where his brother had killed seven people and thn committed suicide, explained family friend Lewis Ard. So Ashbrook asked Ard to arrange a meeting with Wedgwood representatives.

A member at Altamesa Church of Christ, Ard enlisted Altamesa senior minister Danny Sims to help with the plan. The meeting took place in mid-December, some three months after the shootings.

Meredith was accompanied by church administrator Mike Holton, the chairman of the deacons, and two staff members who had been shot in the September attack--counselor Kevin Galey and custodian Jeff Laster. Among those present from Altamesa were Sims, Ard, and additional church representatives.

Sims said Ashbrook began the meeting with a statement about his deep personal feelings of regret. After Ashbrook spoke, Sims continued, Meredith asked if he could lead a song and pray. The Baptist pastor then began the familiar, "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love ...."

The December meeting was not the first time the September tragedy brought the two churches together.

The Altamesa church held a prayer service for its stricken Baptist neighbors the night after the killings. The following Saturday, Meredith said, members from Altamesa showed up at Wedgwood to see if they could help.

"Our church was all at the funeral," he added.

Altamesa members weeded a flower bed at Wedgewood in preparation for the next day's Sunday service funeral service. Wedgwood administrator Holton said the Altamesa members also helped remove damaged church pews so that chairs could be set up for the worship.

Meredith commented, "They've been good neighbors through this."

Sims said, "It's terrible it takes a tragedy to get us together."

He fears there is "a truckload of ... pent-up anguish over the divisions and animosities ... between the Baptists and Churches of Christ."

Meredith was unsure how the $10,000 donated by the Ashbrook family would be used.

"There are so many ministry needs ongoing," Meredith said of his church, which is engaged in a $4 million expansion.

As the congregation seeks healing after the tragedy, the pastor said many church members--continue to suffer psychologically from the shooting incident. Adults and children battle depression, and members startle when exhaust backfire brings back the painful memories of gunshots.

"Forgiveness is a process," Meredith said. "We'll never get over this, but by God's grace we'll get through it."

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