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Hundreds gather for funeral of slain Tennessee minister

Matthew Winkler’s parents and his three young daughters followed his flower-covered casket into the Fourth Street church, Selmer, Tenn., on Tuesday as about 500 people gathered to remember the 31-year-old minister who many members say brought energy to the pulpit and purpose to their work.The service was a family affair, with Matthew Winkler’s father, Dan Winkler, delivering the eulogy. Daniel and Jacob, the slain minister’s brothers, read Scripture, those who attended the service said.Mary Winkler remains in the McNairy County Jail awaiting preliminary hearing Thursday on first-degree murder charges in her husband’s death after confessing to police that she fired the shot that killed him.But even as hundreds drove from churches across Tennessee to pay tribute to Matthew Winkler, the thoughts and actions that led to his death still are not known.

Matthew Brian Winkler was buried about 60 miles north of Selmer nearHuntingdon, where his father is minister of the Huntingdon church. Atthe graveside service, Dan Winkler told mourners that God understoodtheir pain, according to reports from The Associated Press.

“Our family isn’t the first to go through something like this,” Dan Winkler said at the graveside service. “King David lost two sons at the hands of others. God himself knows what this is like.”

When the 15-minute service ended, Matthew Winkler’s two older daughters, Patricia and Mary Alice, picked flowers out of the multicolored arrangement atop the casket and held them close as they walked to a waiting car.

Mary Winkler appeared in court for the firsttime Monday, telling a McNairy County judge, “No, sir” when asked ifshe had questions about the first-degree murder charges she faced.
The body of Matthew Winkler was found by church members lateWednesday in the home owned by the Fourth Street congregation. MaryWinkler told police she shot him in the back, then fled with thecouple’s children to Alabama, where she was apprehended after an Amber Alert was issued for the three girls.
Winkler shuffled into the courtroom wearing an orange prison jumpsuitand leg shackles, holding the right hand of her attorney and staring atthe floor. She never made eye contact with her father, Clark Freeman,or the eight female members of the Fourth Street church seated on thefront row behind her.

Bail will be discussed on Thursday, her attorney, Steve Farese, said. He has indicated she will plead not guilty.

Grieving members of the Fourth Street church – still in shock over the slaying oftheir minister and the arrest of his wife on first-degree murder charges – cametogether Sunday to reflect and pray. Many have spoken to the media about their love for Mary Winkler and how they have forgiven her and will support her in the legal proceedings to come.
Teary-eyed church members shared hugsbefore worship and later sang songs such as “No Tears in Heaven” as they sought comfort in God’sword and each other.
A bouquet of 62 multicolored flowers –representing each child in the congregation and donated by the youth group inmemory of minister Matthew Winkler – sat in front of the pulpit where Winklerpreached just a week before.
Mary Winkler, meanwhile, sent a message to the congregation via member Pam Killingsworth, according to The Associated Press.

A crying Killingsworth, who visited Mary Winkler at the McNairy County Jail after worship, said the 32-year-old mother gave her no indication why she shot her husband, but, “She just said she was sorry and for me to write a note to the churchsaying that she was sorry for everything she had done.”

Dan and Diane Winkler, Matthew Winkler’s parents, spoke with their daughter-in-law on Friday at the custody hearing for the couple’s three daughters. And while church leaders at the Huntingdon, Tenn., church had scheduled a guest speaker to deliver Sunday’s sermon, it was Dan Winkler who stood up at the appointed time to share with members of the church how he and his wife told Mary Winkler they loved her.

Thankfulness was the topic of Dan Winkler’s message to the 400-member church in Huntingdon, about 70 miles from the congregation his son led in Selmer. Dan Winkler cried as he talked about his son and what a good man he was.

Emotions ran high, too, at the Selmer church, as leaders and members struggled at times for words.

“We’re here this morning with heavyhearts,” elder Wilburn Ashe told the 200-member congregation, asking members tobear with him as he tried to contain his emotions.
As normal, members entering the churchreceived a folded white bulletin. But this time, the space under the “minister”heading was blank. Winkler’s smiling picture appeared below these words: “Inloving memory of our minister, our brother, and our friend.”

A photo collage of all five Winkler family members was created along one church hallway: Matthew Winkler smiling, holding plates of food at a fellowship meal. His daughters posing with kittens. Their mother beaming as she lifted baby Breanna up to the sky.

For church members in this small town80 miles east of Memphis, the heartache started Wednesday night when Winklerfailed to show up for Bible study.
Church members used a key to enter theWinklers’ church-owned home and found the 31-year-old minister shot to death ina bedroom. With the family’s minivan missing, authorities began searching forthe minister’s wife and three young daughters.
Less than 24 hours later, Mary Winkler and the girls – Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 – were found in Orange Beach, Ala.,340 miles south of here.
The wife and children were physicallyunharmed, but Mary Winkler was charged with first-degree murder Friday aftershe confessed to shooting her husband in the back, authorities said. No motivehas been made public.
Mary Winkler was brought back to Selmeron Saturday and is expected to appear in court Monday.
At Sunday’s service – the first sincethe slaying put the Fourth Streetchurch in the national spotlight – leaders urged members to refrain fromspeculating on the “why” behind Matthew Winkler’s death.
“The simple fact is that no one knowswhy, except maybe for Mary herself,” deacon Robert Shackelford said, warningthat speculation could fuel unhealthy gossip and rumors.
The church struggles to understand howsuch a tragedy could come to the Winklers – a family described as “perfect” bymore than one member.
Ashe urged members to “remain close toGod and close to one another.” That’s the only way, he said, the congregationwill overcome the tragedy.
While much remains unknown, Ashe said,“There are three little girls, we know, that do not have a daddy right now and,for all practical purposes, they don’t have a momma. Those children have got agood home that they’re in, but it’s not momma and daddy.”
A judge granted Dan and Diane Winkler, custody of the children Friday. Matthew Winkler’s grandfather, Wendell Winkler, who died last year, waswell-known for his 60-year career as a minister in four Southern states.

Matthew Winkler, a graduate of Freed-HardemanUniversity, Henderson, Tenn., came to the Fourth Street church in February 2005, his first pulpitminister’s job after serving as a youth minister for other congregations.
Church leaders encouraged members topray not just for the slain minister’s family and daughters, but also for MaryWinkler.
God’s people are called to be ministersand servants, not judges and juries, Shackelford said.
“Mary Winkler is a member of thischurch family, and we may be some of the closest family she has at this point,”he said.
Elder Drew Eason prayed to God: “We askthat she (Mary Winkler) would confess her sins and repent in such a way thatshe will ultimately have a home with you.”
In Matthew Winkler’s absence, guestpreacher Jeremy Weekley assured the congregation that God understands hispeople’s grief and offers comfort to them.
Weekley, dean of student life at Freed-Hardeman,read from Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There willbe no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things haspassed away.”

“The present tribulations,” Weekley said, “are nocomparison to that which lies ahead for us.”

March 26, 2006

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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