The Rev. Eric Walsh was living in McKenzie, Tenn., when he heard in late 2009 about an opening at Greenacres Baptist Church in Spokane Valley.
Walsh got the job, and had been settled here with his family just eight months when his title abruptly changed from associate pastor to pastor. That’s when he was asked to fill in for the man who 40 years ago founded the Southern Baptist church in Spokane Valley: Wayne Scott Creach.
“We never talked about (me) succeeding him,” Walsh said. “He was planning on being around for a while longer.”
The man known as “Pastor Scott” was killed on Aug. 25 by Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel, who is contracted to work as a police officer for Spokane Valley. Creach, 74, grabbed his gun and went out that night to check on what he apparently thought was a prowler but turned out to be Hirzel in an unmarked police car.
Hirzel told investigators that he repeatedly ordered Creach to drop his weapon and the older man would not, instead putting it in the waistband of his pants. Hirzel said Creach eventually grabbed for his pistol, and the deputy fired when he could see the butt of the gun.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has not released his decision on whether Hirzel will face charges as a result of the shooting that occurred at Creach’s sprawling greenhouse business, located several blocks from the church.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the shooting has had little effect on the day-to-day operations of the church, Walsh said.
“The church doesn’t want to get into the controversy,” he said. “We want to say, ‘Here are the people who are going through a tragedy.’ Our hope is that we can continue to be faithful and demonstrate (God’s) greatness and glory so their lives will be changed.”
Walsh said he feels no pressure replacing Creach.
The congregation has “been wonderful, supportive and encouraging,” Walsh said. “Pastor Creach had set a very good example of what a pastor should be. Because the people loved him, it’s easy for them to love us.”
Walsh, 57, moved here in January with his wife, Carol, and two children. Before their time in Tennessee, the Walshes had spent three years in Vancouver, B.C., so they were familiar with the weather of the Northwest versus the heat and humidity of the South.
“A little more sunshine would help, but the people are great,” Walsh said.
Creach “set a good model for expectations of the church. I will be following along in that same vein: shepherding the flock.”
Walsh has taken over the morning and evening services on Sunday, Bible study groups during the week and other functions for the congregation of about 150 people.
He noted that Creach was not the only member of the flock to die this year.
“Christians are not immune to grief, sorrow, loss and suffering,” Walsh said. “You approach it with the need of the person at that moment. We are hoping through this event that others would see the difference that Jesus makes in our life.”