June 12, 2021

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‘Continue the dream’: Remnant Fellowship Church founder’s children will keep church going after her death – Tennessean

3 min read

In a statement released Sunday night from Remnant Fellowship Church, the church vows that it will continue its mission despite the deaths of its founder and some of its leaders.

Gwen Shamblin Lara, the founder of the controversial church, is presumed dead after a plane carrying her and her husband Joe crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna on Saturday. On board the Cessna 500 series plane were other church leaders, including Lara’s son-in-law Brandon Hannah, a Williamson County real estate agent who was married to her daughter Elizabeth. 

While mourning the great loss, the church called the faith leaders “some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across.” 

Percy Priest plane crash:Gwen Shamblin Lara, other leaders of controversial church presumed dead after plane crash

Latest on the crash:Fatal plane crash at Percy Priest Lake: Human remains found at crash site Sunday

The statement also said Lara’s children, Michael Shamblin and Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, “intend to continue the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of helping people find a relationship with God.”

Lara founded the church after the success of her weight-loss Bible study program called “Weigh Down Workshop.” She linked weight loss to her faith and gained an international following.

Couples Jennifer and David Martin and Jessica and Jonathan Walters, who had three children, are also presumed dead. The couples were part of the church leadership and both credited Lara for rejuvenating and strengthening their faith. The Martin couple was founding members of the church and joined in 1999. 

All victims leave behind families and children. The church said it will take special care of the children in the coming years. 

Impact on millions

“Gwen Shamblin Lara was one of the world’s most kind, gentle, and selfless mother and wife, and a loyal, caring, supportive best friend to all,” the church said in its statement. “She lived every day laying down her own life to ensure that others could find a relationship with God.

“Because of that, her memory will definitely remain for a long time as she has a place in millions of people’s hearts around the world through her work with Weigh Down Ministries and Remnant Fellowship Church. Her wonderful and supportive husband, Joe Lara, will also be greatly missed.”

Emergency personnel remove debris of a plane crash from J. Percy Priest Lake near Fate Sanders boat ramp Sunday, May 30, 2021 in Smyrna, Tenn. Seven people are presumed dead after the small plane crashed into the lake on Saturday, while it was heading from Smyrna to Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.

Investigation into crash continues 

Investigators had changed from a rescue mission on Saturday to a recovery mission Sunday.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration website, no one on the flight was qualified to fly the plane. Joe Lara, 58, had a pilot’s license but had not updated his medical certification since 2017. The medical certification is required every two years.

Hannah didn’t have a certification for the plane, according to the FAA database.

The Laras took off Saturday morning from the Smyrna Rutherford County Airport.

A recording of the communication between the control tower and the pilot, captured on LiveATC.net, revealed an alarm going off in the cockpit of the plane seconds before it crashed, suggesting a mechanical failure in the aircraft, which was built in 1982.

Debris from the shattered plane scattered across about a half mile of the lake, according to Rutherford County Fire Captain and Incident Commander John Ingle. Dive teams from local emergency agencies found human remains among the wreckage Sunday as the recovery effort continued.

Remnant Fellowship

The Remnant Fellowship Church, founded in 1999, reportedly has more than 1,500 members in 150 congregations around the world. The Walters couple is featured on the church’s website, explaining their journey of faith and membership at the church. 

According to its website, the church is “an international community of people who are finding renewed hope, profound love and deep purpose by putting the undiluted teachings of Jesus Christ into practice.”

“This Church has its roots founded in the Bible-based teachings of Gwen Shamblin through Weigh Down Ministries, who has a 30-plus years long-and-counting track record of helping people change their lives in every positive and productive way,” the website says.

The Remnant Fellowship website lists food ahead of drugs, depression, self focus, money, anger, selfishness, envy and jealousy as the idols that need to be “laid down.”

Reach Brinley Hineman at bhineman@tennessean.com and on Twitter @brinleyhineman. To stay updated on Williamson County news, sign up for our newsletter. 

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