WILMINGTON, NC—“The trick is to wait until the second hand is in the air,” retired USMC sniper Sgt. Rick Bernard whispers to a reporter from his perch above the baptismal, as his hands skillfully adjust the scope for accuracy. A split-second later, he fires, and an overly-enthusiastic worshiper near the front row hits the floor. Bernard smiles. “That’s three this morning alone. We usually don’t get that many ’til the late service.”
Just six months ago, Sgt. Bernard was out of work and losing hope. Like many military retirees, he was having issues adjusting to civilian life. But God had other plans, Bernard tells us. “And then just like that, the phone rang.” On the other end of the line was Ryan Preston, lead pastor of Third Baptist Church of Wilmington, calling with a job offer.
“We’d been having trouble with people gettin’ just a wee bit too, well, charismatic, if you’ll pardon my language,” Preston told reporters. “Helping an out-of-work vet was just icing on the cake.”
Preston described the service as typically docile, as all worshipers dutifully sing favorite hymns and praise choruses with open eyes and hands folded carefully in front of them. But as the church grew, so did the number of troublemakers. “It started innocently enough: an eye-closer, a swayer, a clapper or two. But the hand-raisin’, that’s where God and I draw the line.” Preston took action, and now has a sniper posted at every service, just in case things get out of hand.
Two retired army corporals have since found employment at the church as well, dragging the lifeless bodies of former parishioners out into the foyer after Bernard does his work.