The congregation of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs held a service on Sunday, one week after a gunman opened fire in the church, killing 25 people and an unborn child in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
Sunday’s service was held just a few blocks away from the church beneath a white tent on a baseball field, closely guarded by Texas Department of Public Safety agents, sheriff’s deputies and emergency management officers.
Attendees filled about 500 seats in the makeshift sanctuary, which held a small podium for Sunday’s speakers and a wooden cross enveloped white lights. The remaining guests stood in the back.
Pastors and churches from around the area organized the service, while First Baptist Church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy – whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the shooting – spoke.
Pomeroy urged those gathered to “choose life” rather than “darkness” as the gunman had.
“Victory has a price,” he told them. “You cannot be victorious in battle without being wounded in battle.”
At one point, Pomeroy began to break down while speaking.
“I know everyone who lost their life that day,” he said, “some of which were my best friends and my daughter, and I guarantee without any shadow of a doubt they are dancing with Jesus today. God gets the glory.”
Texas Sen. John Cornyn also made remarks during the service.
“It’s clear they’re people of deep faith,” Cornyn said of the congregation in an impromptu press conference following the service. “And, that’s what sustains them and gives them hope, even during dark times like this.”
Cornyn spoke highly of Pomeroy and his faith, which endures despite having suffered his own tragic loss.
“I saw him standing there at the front of the church, comforting others,” Cornyn said. “It’s remarkable, but it’s a testament to their faith and their compassion for others during this very difficult time.”
People from around the state and distant corners of the country traveled to show their support for the small Texas community, home to about 600 residents. One man drove from Dallas, while another couple told CNN they drove from North Carolina.
The church’s services were typically attended by no more than several dozen people, who gathered within the church’s white walls, singing hymns led by a small worship band.
On Saturday, the church announced the sanctuary would be open to the public on Sunday evening, having been “transformed into a beautiful memorial that celebrates and pays tribute to the lives that were lost.”
“I want everyone that walks in there to know that the people who died lived for their Lord and savior, and would want them to live as well,” Pomeroy said Sunday afternoon.
Next Sunday’s church service will return to the sanctuary where last week’s attack was carried out, and Sunday school classes will resume, announced former associate pastor Mark Collins at the end of the service.