Texas town holds 1st Sunday service since church attack
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Hundreds of mourners crowded into the tiny town of Sutherland Springs for the first Sunday service since a gunman stormed the First Baptist Church a week earlier, killing more than two dozen people in the worst mass shooting in Texas history.
After an emotional sermon held outdoors under a massive white tent, congregants and the public were invited to return to the church for the first time since the tragedy. A chilling memorial set up inside the church included 26 white chairs — including one for the unborn baby of a victim who was pregnant — bearing each victim’s name or nickname painted in gold.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy shared his personal heartache and a message that the community bound together by faith can move past the evil that attacked the church seven days earlier.
“Rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life,” Pomeroy said during the service, his voice cracking as he spoke about his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, who was among those killed in the Nov. 5 rampage.
“I know everyone who gave their life that day,” he said, pausing to gather himself. “Some of whom were my best friends and my daughter.” He wiped his eyes, then added, “I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today.”
Initially, the church had planned to hold Sunday’s service at an adjacent community center, which can accommodate a few dozen people. But when organizers realized hundreds planned to attend, the service was moved to a massive white tent erected in a baseball field.
So many people turned up that the tent’s side flaps had to be opened for an overflow crowd so that those who couldn’t get a seat could see and hear what was going on inside. Mark Collins, a previous pastor at First Baptist, said it was the largest gathering in the church’s 100-year history.
The front three rows were reserved for survivors of the attack and the families of those killed. Many arrived early, as a steady rain fell on the tarp roof, offering hugs to each other and prayers.
Congregants wept during the service and a moving version of “Amazing Grace,” led by three singers and a man on guitar, as the voices of hundreds sang along.