SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas—The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs will hold services this Sunday, say church officials, just one week after a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 26 of their congregation, and injured 20 more.
Members of the congregation were notified about the Sunday service by Pastor Frank Pomeroy and other church deacons on Tuesday evening, says First Baptist Church member Ray Wojikowski. Pomeroy, who lost a daughter in the shooting, will preside over the 11:00 a.m. service.
First Baptist opened its doors in 1926, and services have been held in the original church building ever since. The church hosts multiple weekly prayer groups and a Sunday service, and is known for the events they regularly put on for the larger Sutherland Springs community. Recent events included a Halloween parade and a fall festival. A Veteran’s Day breakfast was originally slated for Monday, November 13; its current status is to be determined.
“Frank and his wife [Sherri Pomeroy] would drop by regularly, just to let us know, ‘Hey, we’re having an event, y’all should come by,’ even though we weren’t members of the church. They never once tried to proselytize. They just kept inviting us by anyways,” says Sutherland Springs resident Bernie Tillman, who lived next door to shooting victim Tara McNulty, and her mother Lisa. Tillman is an Air Force veteran and one of the few registered Democrats in Sutherland Springs. He had planned to attend.
Community members from Sutherland Springs and its surrounding cities describe First Baptist as an especially resilient church, despite a small congregation that hovered around a hundred members.
“This is our town, our church, our friends and family, and by having church here on Sunday, we are showing that we are not afraid and that we can and will move onwards, like the Christian soldiers from the hymn,” says Daniel Flores, a church member from La Vernia, Texas.
Members of the congregation say that the resumption of services has little to do with proving a point of strength, and everything to do with the importance of finding faith in trying times—a lesson First Baptist’s Sunday school teacher John Holcombe was teaching the morning of the shooting. Holcombe’s father Bryan Holcombe, who was filling in for Pomeroy as guest pastor, was murdered alongside his wife, daughter-in-law Crystal, and her three children.
Says congregation member Suzanne Vaughn, “Whoever this kid was, we love him. Sure, it was bad. Sure it was terrible. But Jesus said ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ and I know that is what Bryan [Holcombe] would say to us.”