I had known him through reputation only until he came to my home a few days before for a dinner party. Out of all the people there, Greg McKendry hung around with me all night and helped me prepare the gumbo and shrimp we were serving.
He was a faithful member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC). He taught Dave Ramsey financial classes there. He helped out with maintenance and odd jobs there from time to time. He helped deliver meals to the elderly and shut-ins. He was responsible for having TVUUC host homeless families each month. During these times, families would be given a private room in the church where meals were prepared for them and recreation available to them.
It was from these interactions with the homeless that Greg found a child, a teenager that had been bounced from home to home because of his gender identity. Foster families couldn’t deal with an transgender teenager, but Greg and his wife Barbara took him in. The foster child has since blossomed into a beautiful young woman.
In my life, I can count on one hand the number of people I have met whose actions and life are Christ-like. I count Greg among those people. With a countenance of perpetual joy and caring, he truly emulated the example given by Christ.
In my “professional” life, I’m in a local business networking group and every so often I’ll meet with a member for lunch or coffee and have a visit. Today I met with a person who is a genius in his business life but whose work with the homeless in East Tennessee humbles me to the depths of my very soul. He very much loves and follows his personal Savior, Jesus Christ.
Unaware of my direct connection to this story, he told me of a meeting of community leaders in Maryville, where I live, at large Baptist church. This meeting was to discuss creating a local coalition to assist and minister to the growing homeless population in Blount county. This meeting happened soon after the shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC).
Upon his arrival and at the commencement of this meeting, the pastor of this church made the following comment:
“I was kind of worried when I heard about the church shooting in Knoxville last week. Then I found out what “universalist” was! Whew! For a minute there I thought we’d lost a fellow Christian, but we got lucky!”
My friend stood up and walked toward the door. When asked why he was leaving, he responded that it was obvious his assistance wasn’t needed. I’m sure his comment was delivered in the most kind and sincere manner – because such is his nature.
I can only imagine what was going through his mind this afternoon when he looked across the table at me as tears welled in my eyes and I choked as I tried to say something. I couldn’t. I hesitated and tried again to speak as I started to sob, “He was the most kind and loving man I had ever met.”
Truly, Greg McKendry was.
For me, I can still see the face of the killer as he walked into the church with Jaime and me. I can still hear the “boom” of the shotgun in my ears and smell the gunpowder in my nose. That first shot which took my new friend’s life as he jumped in front of a group of children to shield them from the buckshot with his large bear-like frame. Nothing can ever erase the images of children running out of the building covered with sacred blood of a man that gave his life for them.
As for Unitarian Universalists, I’d say the majority are Christian – not that it matters. They choose to worship outside the constraints of hateful dogma. They choose social justice and neighborly love as their worship of choice. Sure, there are others that attend: Atheists, Muslim, Wiccan, Hindu, etc., but they all have the same goal: love.
It has been almost three years since the shooting on July 27, 2008. Greg’s wife, Barbara has passed away from a sudden relapse of cancer. As I sit and type, I wonder, why is it that people like Greg are taken from us when he did so much good and people like this pastor are still with us?