Texas town holds 1st Sun­day ser­vice since church at­tack

Porterville Recorder - - FRONT PAGE - By CLAU­DIA LAUER

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.

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