National News

Undeterred, First Baptist Church will hold service just 7 days after a deadly mass shooting

Posted November 8, 2017 8:57 a.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2017 1:58 p.m. EST

— Twenty-five members of its congregation are no more. Its worship hall is bullet-riddled and destroyed. But undeterred, the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs will host a service on Sunday, just seven days after a gunman stormed the building in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

The service will be held at a community center next door to the church. The small white building that housed the church is uninhabitable.

Pastors from around the area are organizing it, and Frank Pomeroy, First Baptist's pastor, is scheduled to speak.

Pomeroy was traveling with his wife on the day of the shooting and was not at the church, but his daughter Annabelle, 14, was. She died in the shooting, along with 24 church members and an unborn child.

"Now most of our church family is gone, our building is probably beyond repair and the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday," Sherri Pomeroy, the pastor's wife, said the day after the shooting.

Irrevocably changed

Sutherland Springs is a small community of about 600 residents. When gunman Devin Kelley, armed with an assault rifle and 15 loaded magazines, fired off 450 rounds inside the church on November 5, he wiped out some 4% of the town's population,

The horrific act irrevocably changed the small rural town.

In simpler times, the white walls of First Baptist Church vibrated with hymns, prayers and sermons praising Christ.

Several dozen people, many of them casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts, sat in the caramel brown pews of its unpretentious worship hall; its altar little more than a carpeted stage.

Now, Pastor Pomeroy wants to tear down the church and possibly build a memorial in its place.

"This was just the pastor discussing what he thinks [the] best case scenario would be," Roger Oldham, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, told CNN. "But the church has to make the decision together to tear down the church.

"Everything is in such grief mode right now in this church [that] these decisions will have to unfold as they come for the people there. It will be in their own timeline."

The small church was an anchor in the unincorporated community, which lies about 30 miles east of San Antonio. Its members help feed the needy and clean up neighbors' property after storms.

"They don't have a lot of money, but they are always willing to give," said Mike Clements, who pastors a nearby church.

Each Sunday, Pastor Pomeroy ends the service at First Baptist in prayer. The words aren't always the same, but the sentiment was the promise of a better tomorrow.

At the service this Sunday, a week after the massacre, that message may be needed more than ever.