Missing evangelist found

Friday, October 14, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

A Lewisburg congregation struggles to cope with the death of an evangelist who went missing three weeks ago and was found dead Tuesday evening in Rock Creek near Nashville Highway.

The Rev. Tim Atkisson, pastor of New Life Tabernacle on Fox Lane, knew that Tuesday night; "It's him." Found in a pocket of dark-colored pants worn by David Dickinson were a key to the church here and a key fob from the dealership where Dickinson bought the travel trailer he lived in with his wife and children.

Dickinson, 49, was originally from Kentucky. His wife, Tammy, said they really had no fixed residence because they'd been traveling from one revival to another for weeks on end. He left for a morning walk from the travel trailer that was parked behind the church on Sept. 26. Two days of extensive searching ensued with help from a state helicopter and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Then he was found floating in Rock Creek at about 4:15 p.m. by someone walking along the creek bank.

"We still don't know" the cause of death, Police Chief Chuck Forbis said. "The preliminary autopsy shows no foul play and no trauma to the body, so now we're waiting for toxicology."

Dickinson's parents live in Kentucky and were notified Tuesday night. Tammy Dickinson's parents live in Texas. Police told relatives about steps in the investigation so they could make travel plans.

"There is nothing for us to have a hold" on the body, Forbis said. "That's probably between them and the medical examiner's office" in Nashville.

City police conducted another search of the creek bank Wednesday to see if something else could be found, the chief said. There was nothing out of the ordinary.

Atkisson's message to his congregation Wednesday night was of unity, regardless of "the situation" and how he'd "faced a lot of cameras today" when TV network affiliates came to town for the story.

"We are getting a lot of free publicity," he said. "I hate it in this way, but I believe God will take something bad and make something positive."

The situation is a test for the congregation, Atkisson said, asking, "Do we go with our feelings, or do we ... stay with the ship?"

He'd read that people have some 3,000 thoughts per day and felt that day most of his were questions.

Without a cause of death, speculation included a theory that Dickinson may have had a medical condition that he and his family had not discovered.

"He struggled to bring his ... message," church member Larry Stiles said of the evangelist's brief stay at New Life Tabernacle. "He was just wore out...

"He was just here two days; one day really for two services "His thoughts and words didn't set well with us."

From the creek bank while Dickinson was being recovered, the police chief said, "It appears he'd been in the water for more than a few days."

Dickinson was "right at the surface" of the water, "but against some branches" on the north bank of Rock Creek, about 75 yards west of Nashville Highway, downstream from where the road crosses the creek.