A small Texas church that garnered national headlines in 2017 when a shooter opened fire on the congregation officially opened their new sanctuary.
First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs held their first services on Sunday at their new worship facility, with elected officials including Governor Greg Abbott giving remarks.
“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,” stated Gov. Abbott, as reported by The Associated Press.
There were two services on Sunday, a 9:00 AM service centered on thanking God for “the provision of the building and land” and an 11:00 AM service meant to “honor the victims, victims' families, survivors, donors, and the community of Sutherland Springs,” according to a May 8 post on the church’s Facebook page.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, the leader of the church whose 14-year-old daughter was among the murdered, explained to the AP that the church now had a “safety response team” as part of their increased security.
“We don’t want to look like a fortress, but also wanted to make sure that everybody could feel safe on the inside,” said Pomeroy to the AP.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, which helped fundraise for the new building, took to social media to offer their support for the opening.
“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,” tweeted NAMB.
On Nov. 5, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley, who was discharged from the U.S. Air Force after being convicted of assault and serving one year in a military prison, entered FBC Sutherland Springs during Sunday worship and opened fire, killing 26 people.
Authorities concluded that, although he had a history of anti-religious social media posts, Kelley's primary motive was because his ex-wife had family who attended the church.
In March of last year, it was announced that FBC Sutherland Springs was going to construct a new worship space near the location of the mass shooting.
Last May, the church held an official ground-breaking, which had among its speakers U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who told those gathered that while people saw "the face of evil" with the shooting, they also "saw so much more."
"You saw love. You saw strength. You saw compassion. You saw courage. You saw sacrifice," said Sen. Cruz at the 2018 event.
Cruz also commended the church for its "powerful" showcasing of "the strength, the peace of this community," saying that "as each of you grieving leaned on each other," their reaction to the shooting "reflected the love of Jesus."