Neighbors hear “endless rounds” of gunfire coming from new religious group in Grainger County

It’s common to see Rod of Iron Ministries worship with AR-15s, which has left some neighbors with questions and concerns.
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - On Friday, Thorn Hill residents told WVLT News they’re still learning more about their new neighbors, Rod of Iron Ministries. The group is nationally known as World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, Inc.

It’s common to see the group worship with AR-15s, which has left some neighbors with questions and concerns.

“I don’t like violence in any way,” Leroy Shelton, a Thorn Hill resident, said.

Residents said they heard endless rounds of gunfire Thursday morning coming from 225-acres worth of property Rod of Iron Ministries purchased in Grainger County. Administrator Gregg Noll said they’ve already starting gun training on the property but do not use the firearms unconsciously or during worship ceremonies.

A few residents told WVLT News they worry the group’s gun use might promote violence while several others said they’re welcomed to the neighborhood as long as they are peaceful.

“We believe that we are coheirs of Christ,” Noll said. " It’s (the guns) there for ceremonial symbolic purposes -- never to be used in that kind of setting. The only time you use the firearm is at a gun range or at a life or death situation. We’re very clear about that. People are over trained at Rod of Iron Ministries.”

World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, Inc. is based out of Pennsylvania, but Noll said East Tennessee’s conservative Christian values and mountains attracted them to the area. Their goal is to transform the property into a retreat that offers a gun range and trails for guest to visit.

The retreat center is expected to be finished in the next five years. The public will be able to visit the property as early as next spring.

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