WICHITA — Fully aware of the security issues and unwelcome attention that would arise, the senior pastor of College Hill United Methodist Church said Wednesday that he welcomed the opportunity to host the funeral of George Tiller.
"We're just a congregation that's wanting to reach out and care for people, particularly in difficult times," the Rev. John Martin said. "We really want to care for the Tiller family, especially at this time of such a tragic loss."
Tiller was shot and killed Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, where he was serving as an usher. Scott P. Roeder, 51, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting.
Martin said the Tiller family requested that the funeral -- which is open to the public -- be held at the College Hill church, 2930 E. First St. Martin said he thinks College Hill's sanctuary -- which seats between 650 and 700 people -- and overflow space offers more available seating than Reformation.
In addition, Tiller had a long relationship with the College Hill congregation and its former pastor, the Rev. George Gardner, Martin said.
Martin said the service will be led by Reformation Lutheran Church pastors, not him. College Hill has offered to serve in whatever way the Tiller family and Reformation leaders want, Martin said.
"I'm here to be a welcoming person," he said.
Martin said he realizes that there is likely to be people who will protest the funeral. Members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly protest at funerals across the country, have announced plans to be at Tiller's funeral.
Martin said that the U.S. Marshals Service and the Wichita Police Department have already been to the church "several times" to discuss security matters.
"I'm not sure exactly what the security's going to entail," he said, "but in my conversations with them, I feel very comfortable that they're going to do a great job."
Some neighborhood residents near the church, such as Rhonda Rogers, realize that the area will be busier than normal Saturday. Rogers said she's not upset that the funeral will be held at the church, but more so at the likelihood of negative comments directed at Tiller.
"I'm just disappointed that there's possibly going to be protesters," she said.
Martin understands that's possible. But that does not concern him.
"My concern is that we be as loving as we possibly can be," he said.
Since it was announced that College Hill would host the service, Martin said the church has received much feedback -- all of it positive -- about the decision.
"We have lots of people who have offered support, that have sent us e-mails and made calls thanking us for doing this," he said.
"People I don't know are saying, 'What can we do to help? How can we help? Thank you so much for doing this.' And I've really been pleased with that."