Church mourning fireworks crew
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 7, 2009 1:46 PM
For the first time in 11 years, The Lord's Table Pastor Bill Wilson dreaded going to church on Sunday.
The day before, four people associated with the church lost their lives in a fireworks explosion on Ocracoke Island. A fifth remains in fair condition at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill.
Terry Holland, 49, Charles "Kirk" Kirkland Jr., 49, Lisa Simmons, 41, and Mark Hill, 21, died while unloading fireworks for that night's display on the island. The other person injured was identified only as Holland's nephew.
Holland was building maintenance supervisor at the church. The other three were lesser known, but Kirkland's father, Charles Sr., is associate pastor at The Lord's Table. Miss Simmons had volunteered in children's church, and Hill had reportedly only recently begun attending the church.
"Terry was like a son to me," Wilson said Monday evening. "It was more than just losing an employee. This was my baby. This was my heart."
Explaining the uniqueness of his friend of 20 years, Wilson noted Holland "had a servant's spirit, a servant's heart."
"Terry was straight up. What you saw was what you got."
Holland was a visible representative at the church, often the first one many would see as they entered the doors, several said. His absence Sunday made the loss even more deeply felt.
"I told my wife as we went off to church Sunday morning, 'I dread going to church this morning because this will be the first time in 11 years I have gone to church and didn't see Terry,'" Wilson said. "It was extremely hard. That was my baby."
But there's a story to be told, the pastor said, and a big portion is about the man Holland was.
"He was a human being that was well-loved, well-respected in our church, highly thought of," Wilson said.
As the news of the early Saturday morning accident rippled through the community, members gathered at the church that afternoon to pray for the victims and their families.
Sunday morning was especially somber, as Mitch Ham, worship pastor, broke the news during the service.
"People were mourning (Sunday). It was a heavy service, and people were contemplating what had happened and how close a friend they lost," said Paul Peoples, associate pastor. "It was just like losing a member of the family."
Peoples said Holland was "liked by everyone."
Ron Harris, a deacon at the church, agreed.
"It's just unbelievable. We still haven't come to grips with it. Terry was like my little brother," he said. "We were a very close-knit family."
Church member Don Lewis also had a kinship with Holland, having appeared in several church dramas together.
"If I could say anything about Terry, I would say that if you met Terry, you couldn't do anything but love him," he said. "He was one of the best persons I have ever met."
The void was already being felt, albeit mixed with some disbelief.
"When I got the call, I said to (wife) Gloria, I hoped what he said was incorrect. I did not want to receive it," Lewis said. "When I got to church it was just overwhelming. When Pastor Mitch made it official, I still didn't want to hear it."
There were no words to express the emotion in Sunday morning's service, Lewis said, but there were many hugs.
"We're just praying one for another. We need each other. We really do because this was just so unexpected," he said, adding, "Terry has left a legacy of righteousness, of friendliness. His legacy will live on. I'm glad that I knew him."
Church member Ken Jefferson Sr. called Holland a "very hard-working, honest, lovable, jolly kind of person. He was almost angelic in what he did. He was always the same, always, just as smooth and even-tempered as anyone I have ever met."
Put more simply, Holland was loved by everybody, said Ken Jefferson Jr., pastor of student ministries at the church.
"Nobody will fill his shoes. He was one of those kind of people," he said. "I'm going to miss my friend."
Holland's voice will also be missed, said church member Ricky Yelverton, who regularly made the morning announcements at the church.
"When you go into church, when you're preaching or anything, Terry's the guy that gives you support in the back," he said. "That always picked me up. ... You always know Terry's there."
Worship leader Diedrik Lewis called Holland a great person to be around. And while his attitude and sense of humor stood out, it was more about his spirit.
"Terry was people-oriented and he would go out of his way to help you if he could. He didn't hold back from helping folks, if they asked him. He would be there, no matter what the task was," he said. "And you knew that he truly did love God. He just had a genuine desire to know more and know his place in God."
Phyllis Jefferson knew Ms. Simmons as a dedicated volunteer in Bible school and children's church, but moreso as mother to her 8-year-old son A.J.
"She was a great mom," Mrs. Jefferson said. "And the kids knew the love for the kids that that she had. It was just awesome.
In the days ahead, many prayers will go up for the families, and Ham said the church's 1,100 members will help each other cope with the losses.
"Pastor (Wilson) said it's OK to mourn," he said. "We're looking for peace to come and hopefully God will show us some understanding and we're going to rally and come together as a family."
Funeral arrangements are still being made, but Wilson provided some of the particulars.
A memorial service for Holland is planned for Friday at 1 p.m. at the church, prefaced by a signing of the book beginning at 11 a.m. His funeral arrangements are pending McIntyre Funeral Home and Ministries.
Kirkland's funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the chapel of Howell Funeral Home & Crematory, with the family receiving friends immediately following the service. He will be buried in Newsoms, Va.
Hill's family will receive friends tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Shackleford-Howell Funeral Home in Fremont, with graveside services held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Princeton.
As for Miss Simmons, who was from Georgia, Wilson said her mother had requested the body be sent there for funeral services, with a memorial service likely to take place at The Lord's Table next week.
According to Peoples, Holland was the team leader for Melrose South Pyrotechnics, near Rock Hill, S.C. The four, plus an additional person, were preparing for a fireworks show on the island when the explosion occurred. Peoples said Simmons and Kirkland don't work for the company, but had agreed to help Holland that night.
The explosion, though it has been ruled an accident, is still under investigation.
-- Staff writer Laura Collins contributed to this report.