Eighteen months after the deadliest massacre in Texas history that left more than two dozen dead, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs held its first official worship services in its new building.
Hundreds gathered Sunday where each of the 26 victims’ names were read aloud during a special service that honored the lives of those who were killed on Nov. 5, 2017.
What’s the background?
The small Texas church was thrust into the headlines when a gunman stormed the church and killed 26 members, including an unborn baby and injured dozens more. The killer died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The new facility features a memorial room, a new church bell tower, and increased security measures, Pastor Frank Pomeroy said, according to The Associated Press. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was among those killed by the lone gunman.
“We don’t want to look like a fortress, but also wanted to make sure that everybody could feel safe on the inside,” Pomeroy told the AP.
About 60 companies donated materials and services to the project funded by the North American Mission Board on behalf of Southern Baptists, KSAT-TV reported.
“Pray for the members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs this morning as they dedicate their new worship facility. Thank you Southern Baptists for making this possible,” NAMB wrote on Twitter.
The original church building still stands as a memorial to the victims. It’s unclear what will happen to the building in the future. Two services were held on Sunday.
What are the details?
The first service at 9 a.m. centered on “thank[ing] God for the provision of the building and land,” according to the church’s Facebook page.
A second service at 11 a.m. honored the victims, their families, survivors, donors, and the community of Sutherland Springs.
“Those people’s lives are the reason that we have that church today. There’s no doubt about,” survivor David Colbath told KSAT. “They’re martyrs. They’re people that died and did nothing wrong.”
Some churchgoers wore blue shirts that read, “#evildidnotwin.”
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was on-hand to deliver remarks to churchgoers.
“This is a tangible sign as people drive through Sutherland Springs in the future they will know that this is a place where goodness triumphed over evil,” Abbott said, according to the Associated Press.
Pomeroy told KSAT that the children used to race to him for permission to ring the bell on Sunday mornings when it was time for services to begin.
“Many of the children that rang that bell are no longer with us,” Pomeroy said. “Our shooter had the propensity to seek out children. And for that reason, that bell means more now to me than it did even previous.”
The new bell tower stands taller than all other buildings in Sutherland Springs.