A Killeen church lost its three senior-most pastors in a deadly car crash Thursday night, sending waves of grief through the congregation and into the community.
The crash occurred about 7:20 p.m. on northbound State Highway 130 in Pflugerville. A van carrying pastors Terry Whitley, Jan Whitley and Steve Timmerman veered off the toll road and into southbound lanes and rolled over, according to Pflugerville police.
Pastor Eric Reynolds said Grace Christian Center is grieving the loss of its pastors.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough on everybody,” Reynolds said. “But there is also a sense of hope.”
Reynolds said the church will honor the Whitleys’ and Timmerman’s memory by continuing to live by the teaching of Jesus they preached every day. He described Terry Whitley as a humble and giving man, Jan Whitley as an outgoing woman who put helping others above all else and Timmerman as the “ultimate example” of a servant of God.
Timmerman was driving the van at the time of the crash. He picked up the Whitleys from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport after they returned from a conference in Europe where they trained new pastors.
Spouses Terry and Jan Whitley founded Grace Christian Center in 1980. Timmerman was a chaplain for the Killeen Fire Department and served as senior associate pastor at Grace Christian.
The church held a standing-room only prayer service Friday night that became emotional as several members walked in and out of the church’s sanctuary. Some were sobbing, others wiped tears from their eyes with tissues provided by staff.
The service spilled into the hallways and multiple rooms where staff set up televisions showing the service and displaying lyrics for attendees to sing along.
Mourners and people offering to help after the loss filed in and out of the church Friday, dropping off flowers and speaking of their pastors.
One church member described the loss as “overwhelming.”
The day culminated with Friday’s prayer service, with hundreds moving into the packed parking lot that left three spots open for their lost pastors. Funeral services for the Whitleys and Timmerman have not been set.
Reynolds said the response showed how much the pastors affected the community. “It is really heart-warming because you can begin to get an idea of their reach.”
Grace Christian Center member Mario Hinojos said the loss was “terrible,” but members are now working to try to help the families of the victims.
“We know where we stand and we want to keep our hearts open to the families,” Hinojos said. “We can see beyond what has occurred. Many more people’s lives will be impacted from this.”
Though initially the congregation will feel pain, Hinojos said the pastors’ teachings will last lifetimes.
“You see that one person does make a difference,” Hinojos said. “It lives on within our hearts and we will carry on the Kingdom here at Grace.”