MANATEE -- During a historic Bayshore Baptist Church service at 10:45 a.m. Sunday attended by an estimated 350 people, many of whom came to pay respects to slain church Pastor James "Tripp" Battle, two young church members were hardly noticed.
Steven Cook, 11, and Caleb Bone, 14, watched with awe as a half-dozen TV stations and a slew of newspaper reporters set up equipment in the rear of the church to capture the words of the late pastor's wife, Joy Battle, who spoke with composure and grace Sunday just three days after her husband was murdered Thursday in the courtyard of the church.
"She was very courageous," said the Rev. Bob Allen.
Joy Battle took a microphone and stood before the people -- not at the pulpit.
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"You can silence the voice, but you can't silence the song," she said. "You can bury the horse but the work will go on. I will grieve the rest of my days, but I will stay together because I know Jesus. He is the song and the work."
After the service, Joy Battle added: "The best way to honor my husband's life is to carry on and keep on."
Visitation for Tripp Battle will be from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Bradenton, 1306 Manatee Ave. W., and a celebration of his life is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the same location.
Also slain Thursday in northwest Bradenton: church children's director Amber Avalos and Avalos' neighbor, Denise Potter.
Andres "Andy" Avalos was charged with three counts of second-degree murder at his first court appearance at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Steven and Caleb would have delighted Tripp Battle with their off-the-radar responses when asked what made the late pastor special.
"He was the funniest guy," said Steven, who, for some reason was wearing a washable Batman tattoo over his face. "And the nicest guy. He would touch your heart and when this happened it made you cry for days."
Tripp Battle recently baptized Steven, Caleb and Haley Sauve. The two boys are experts on "Tripp Trivia."
"He could tell the best jokes," Caleb said.
"He had great sermons, like 'Plan A. There Isn't Any Plan B.'" said Steven. "You can listen to all of his sermons on visitbayshore.org. You should do it."
"Did you know he was color blind?" Steven asked, daring anyone to top that piece of Tripp Trivia.
"His favorite movie was 'Goonies,' " chimed in Caleb.
One sensed it was important for these two boys to keep talking so as not to start crying.
"He changed my life and the lives of a lot of us kids due to his words and God's words," Steven said.
Bayshore Baptist member Ron Hazlett calls Bayshore Baptist "a huggy church." Sunday was a day for hugs after Thursday's tragedy, but Hazlett said it was not unusual for everyone to hug everyone in Tripp Battle's church.
Church members also were thrilled with the new Tripp Battle Memorial Garden, donated by Kevin Adams of Plant Place, who with employee, Ernesto Martinez, worked for three hours Saturday putting in trees, bushes at the exact spot in the courtyard where Tripp Battle died. Cliff White from Big Earth donated the mulch and H&H Nursery donated flowers.
The garden includes geraniums, poinsettias and a Moringa tree, also know as a miracle tree because of its properties as an anti-diabetic when made into tea, said Sunday school teacher Karen Tidwell, who had the idea to turn the earth where the pastor's body fell into something special.
"When Joy Battle saw it she said: 'From death to life. From despair to hope. I love it,' " Tidwell said.
About half of those who crowded into the service were non-members, including Janette Fulton of Bradenton, who usually attends Calvary Chapel in Sarasota.
"This is what Tripp would have wanted," Fulton said, speaking of a large crowd hearing about Jesus.
Fulton lost her best friend from Manatee High School, Terry Hudson, in 1984, to a house fire and said she knows the pain of loss.
"We don't always know why things happen but we do know a higher power is at work," Fulton said.
After the hour-long service was over, highlighted by Allen's preaching on Psalms and how they are an excellent place to start on a journey to God, Tripp Battle's parents, Jimmy and Rhonda Battle, and sister, Ashley, hugged hundreds in the church hallway.
"I think the thing that I will never forget about today is the support for Tripp, the number of people who came here," Rhonda Battle said.
Joy Battle had three friends who flew down from Alabama. Long after the service, Joy Battle talked about her first date with her husband.
"He was such a straightforward guy," Joy Battle said. "He came up to me and said: 'I like you. I'd like to get to know you.'
"Our first date was at the Outback Restaurant in Dothan, Ala.," Joy Battle said. "We got engaged four months later. He loved me and he loved our children."
On Saturday, Joy Battle came to the sanctuary and stood at the pulpit. She cried about it Sunday.
"I felt his presence there," she said. "He was so passionate about preaching. And about people. He didn't care where you came from."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.