|Maryland church responds to family shooting|
Tamara and John Browning are shown with their
children Nicholas (top right), Benjamin (left) and Gregory in this
undated photo. Nicholas, 15, has been charged with four counts of
first-degree murder in the deaths of his family at their home in
Cockeysville, Md., on Feb. 1.
A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of the Browning family.
By Melissa Lauber*
Feb. 11, 2008 | BALTIMORE (UMNS)
Epworth United Methodist Church in Cockeysville, Md., is helping
members and the community
respond to the murders. A UMNS
Web-only photo courtesy of Epworth United Methodist Church.
How does a church respond when four of its members are murdered and
the teenager who created its prayer garden stands accused of killing
It’s a surreal question, said the Rev. Bill Brown. But faced with
that reality, the congregation of Epworth United Methodist Church in
Cockeysville, Md., is replying––in both words and actions––that "God
cares, God is present."
According to news reports, Nicholas Browning, 15, argued with, then
shot and killed his father, John Browning, 45, on Feb. 1. Nicholas then
allegedly used the gun to kill his mother, Tamara, 44; and brothers,
Gregory, 13 and Benjamin, 11, who were asleep in their beds.
The Brownings were active members of the Epworth congregation in
their suburban Baltimore town. Nicholas was a Boy Scout and honor
student and was well liked in the community. His father was a partner in
a law firm in Towson and was a leader in his sons’ Scout troop. His
mother was a homemaker who did part-time property management work.
At their colonial, suburban home, neighbors have placed stuffed
animals and candles on the wraparound porch. In formal and impromptu
vigils in the community and at schools, people describe the Brownings as
"a picture perfect" family.
No one at the church had any inkling that anything like this would
ever happen, Brown said. He is observing people running through "the
whole gamut of emotions––sadness, anger, disbelief and even laughter as
people share stories and remember a family whose lives made an
Amid the sorrow is an underlying question: Why?
"It’s a question we’re all asking," Brown said. "But in the midst of not knowing why, God is with us."
Brown sees God’s presence "in the way people in the community are
reaching out to one another, in the way people are treating one another,
crying with one another, holding hands together. That’s where God is at
work," he said.
After the killings, the church opened its doors as a gathering place for teens to pray and talk.
Opportunity amid tragedy
Bishop John R. Schol of the Washington Area said he mourns for all affected by the violence.
"When tragedies like this occur, the church is faced with its
greatest opportunity to be the body of Christ. I am grateful for the
ministry of Pastor Bill Brown and the Epworth congregation who are
demonstrating the love, hope and peace of Jesus Christ," the bishop
"Compassion is the key word. Everyone in this situation is a child of God."
–The Rev. Bill Brown
"Violence can make us feel that the strength of God is slipping into
the darkness of this world, but it is the care and ministry of the
church and pastors during this time that is a witness that the power of
love and the commitment of those who stand in the light … shines more
brightly than the shadows of pain and tragedy," Schol said.
At a memorial service Feb. 8, more than 1,200 gathered at nearby
Trinity Assembly of God, which opened its doors for the service. They
came together to grieve and to share their memories of the Browning
"I cried Monday, I cried Tuesday, I cried Wednesday, Thursday and
Friday," said a girl. "I don’t think I have any more tears. I just wish
now that I could sleep at night."
But the tears did come for many in the sanctuary as four wooden boxes
containing the Brownings’ ashes were brought in, followed by a
procession of the Boy Scouts and leaders of Troop 328 and three pastors
robed in white.
Many cried when photos of the family on ski trips and celebrating
holidays flashed on two large screens. Parents in the congregation held
their children tighter when two friends of Greg Browning choked up as
they described their friend.
"Never in my life did I think I could have encountered someone I
could completely be myself around," said James Schmelz, his voice
breaking. "But I did, and that was Greg."
Family members and friends spoke about each of the four Brownings.
John was remembered as a navigator, who knew how to help people find
their way in life. Tammy was described as "the cool mom," who
boogie-boarded in the ocean waves and skied with her children at their
mountain vacation home. The couple would have celebrated their 20th
wedding anniversary this year.
A child of God
Nicholas Browning, who turned 16 the day of the service, is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center without bail.
Although Nicholas’ name was never mentioned by friends and relatives
at the memorial service, Brown said he has forgiven the boy because it
is in keeping with his faith in a God of forgiveness. He invited those
present to search their hearts, reach out to God and to think about
As Nicholas Browning’s pastor, Brown has visited and prayed with him.
"Compassion is the key word. Everyone in this situation is a child of
God," he said.
In his message of hope, Brown quoted Zephaniah 3:17, a verse sent to him
in an e-mail by a local school teacher following the shootings.
The Rev. Bill Brown
The Lord "will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with
loud singing," the Scripture says. Sometimes it is a song of
celebration, other times it’s a lullaby, said Brown. "Today it is a song
Brown asked the congregation and community to draw upon the tools God
gives them as they move through this tragedy – tools of memory, love,
faith and forgiveness.
Holding each other up
At times during the week that followed the shooting, Brown said, he
found himself thinking about how Nicholas created a prayer garden at the
church for his Eagle Scout project.
"He was excited about providing a place of prayerful meditation," Brown said.
That garden has taken on a new significance in some people’s minds,
and the congregation is considering planting trees around it in the
future. For Brown, it is a reminder that "prayer connects us to a God
who loves us and cares for us when we walk through the dark valleys of
life and in times of joy."
He hopes those in the congregation will "continue to hold each other up."
"There are some things in life that we’re never going to understand,"
he said. "But there is a God who cares for us. None of us are going
through this alone."
*Lauber is associate editor of the UMConnection newspaper in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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