The incident happened as the congregation of Heal the Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville as they were holding their year-end prayer service, which included a time of exhortation from Pastor Larry Wright, who also serves as a councilman in the city. According to reports, Wright was speaking about the “senseless deaths” in Fayetteville as the man entered.
The man, who has not yet been identified, walked toward the front of the room, pointing his rifle toward the ceiling.
“Can I help you?” Wright asked, wondering if he would need to tackle the gunman.
The man, assault rifle in hand, asked for prayer.
Wright then took the gun from the stranger, and instructed his deacons to embrace him and make him feel welcome. The pastor began to pray for the man, who fell to his knees crying.
Wright invited him to stay for the remainder of the service.
At the end of the meeting, the man stepped forward as the invitation was presented.
“He gave his life to Christ,” Wright told reporters. “I came down and prayed with him and we embraced. It was like a father embracing a son.”
As one of the members had called 911 upon the gunman’s entrance, police arrived on the scene. But Wright asked them to wait outside as the service was underway and the man was receiving ministry. He informed the gunman at the conclusion of the night that law enforcement had been waiting outside the building.
The stranger then turned to the approximately 60 people gathered and began to speak. He apologized to the congregation for his actions and explained that he had initially set out to commit a crime that night, but God impressed on him to go to church. He had recently been released from prison and was troubled.
“It’s so hard to describe, to explain the excitement and love of God in the room,” Wright told CNN. “This man came in to do harm and he has given his life to Christ.”
The man was voluntarily taken to a local hospital for a mental evaluation.
The pastor and councilman says that he hopes to connect with the stranger again.
“I want to follow up with him and see that he’s getting the help and resources he needs,” he told the Fayetteville Observer.