While many feel a sense of “closure” with the arrest of the man accused of being the BTK serial killer who haunted citizens for over 30 years, a whole new journey now begins for one area church. Dennis Rader, 60, charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder spanning from 1974 to 1991 is also a longtime member and council president of Christ Lutheran Church on Wichita’s north side.
Rader, also a family man, Cub Scout leader and animal control officer for Park City, Kansas, is being held at the Sedgwick County jail in lieu of $10 million bail for suspicion of killing seven women, one man and two children.
In a recent one-on-one interview, Michael Clark, pastor of the 400-member congregation told the Wichita Chronicle, “Our congregation is still in a state-of-shock. Our members are in disbelief that this is really happening. Many of our people feel betrayed,” said Clark.
Bob Smyser, a fellow usher at Christ Lutheran, said his 5-year-old son recognized Rader's photo when it was flashed on the television screen at home. The boy looked up at his father and asked, "Daddy, he tricked us -- didn't he?"
"I am not sure what to tell him," Smyser said. "I am not sure what to tell myself."
Bulletin boards inside the church, however, are lined with letters of support from all over the world which might help church members like Smyser feel encouraged. “People recognize the congregation is suffering and folks are reaching out,” said Clark.
Clark says that not all communication has been positive. Occasional mean-spirited telephone calls and hate mail come to the church. One such note asked, “How could you allow Satan to be a member of your church.”
Clark tries not to allow those who might judge the situation get him down. Many members say they feel betrayed and are confused about their emotions.
A crisis intervention team spent several days facilitating conversations aiding parishioners to reflect on their feelings and how this event impacts Christ Lutheran Church.
Gerald Mansholt, bishop of the Central States Synod in Kansas City, Missouri, spoke at a service and pleaded with the crowd for patience – to wait for the evidence. He said churches across the state were praying for the congregation, as well as for the survivors of BTK’s victims and for the Rader family.
“We grieve with you,” Mansholt said. “Words fail us at times like this ... the very foundation of our faith is shaken.”
And that’s certainly true for Clark. The suspected killer’s arrest came just one week after Rader and Clark drove to Hutchinson together for a denominational meeting. Later that same night Clark, his wife, Dennis Rader and his wife Paula sat at the same table for a Valentine’s Day banquet at the church.
“Seminary didn’t prepare me for this,” said Clark, “But I’m already seeing good come out of this”
After seven years of lost communication with his brother, Clark says all that changed recently. Following an interview on Larry King Live a telephone call came from his brother. “Mike, is that you? This is Tom. I just saw you on TV and wanted to give you a call.”
The outpouring of support from a variety of different churches also encourages Clark. “This has been the most humbling experiences I’ve had. The support from across denominational lines has been overwhelming,” said Clark.
Clark’s greatest challenge is leading his congregation while at the same time dealing with the added responsibilities which come with the massive global media interest as well as the ongoing legal investigation.
Clark visits Rader on a regular basis. Rader asks repeatedly about his wife and children, who haven’t spoken to him since his arrest on February 25.
Describing this as a “soul-shattering experience,” Clark said the Rader family was “trying to come to grips with this.”
It’s also been described that Paula Rader is in disbelief and feeling bewildered and confused. Rader’s wife Paula, who sang in the church choir, and daughter Kerri, are reportedly in seclusion in Michigan. Rader’s son Brian is said to be under a suicide watch.
Letters of support can be sent to:
Christ Lutheran Church
5356 N. Hillside
Wichita, KS 67219
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