The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has marked one year since 26 of its members, including the pastor's daughter, were killed in one of the worst shootings in modern U.S. history.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, spoke with The Texan about how they and the congregation has been coping since the tragedy on Nov. 5, 2017, which resulted in the death of their daughter, Annabelle, along with other close friends and staff.
The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, was shot by neighbor and NRA instructor Stephen Willeford who pursued him in his vehicle as he sped away from the church and crashed into a sign, flipping the vehicle into a ditch. He later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was believed at the time that his potential target was his mother-in-law, who was not present when the attack occurred.
Pomeroy, who has led the church for 17 years, said that the congregation has now grown to number 180–200 each Sunday, baptizing some 30-40 new believers in 2018.
"At least one or two reporters come every Sunday," the pastor revealed.
He said that the curious visitors to the church have shrunk, but the home-grown members have returned and stayed active. Others who would only occasionally attend in the past have now become faithful in coming, he added.
The couple said that they're thankful for the support they've received, but Frank Pomeroy spoke out against what he called Christian clichés, such as saying, "God won't give you any more than you can handle."
"I was mad at God. All of those Christian clichés would sometimes make me very angry," Sherry Pomeroy said.
"God knows our hearts. We can be angry and not sin. God knew Sherri's heart. She was angry. Her heart was broken," her husband added.
The loss remains great. Pomeroy lost his "right-hand man" Karla Holcombe, along with a number of deacons, which makes running the church difficult.
"I lost a lot of my core and my leadership that day," the pastor reflected.
He said that a number of the church's traditions, such as its annual Thanksgiving meal, have continued as normal.
"We always do Thanksgiving all day here because we said this is our church family," he revealed. "When people have crises, this church is their central ground."
Sherri Pomeroy added: "The church is supposed to be the center of the community and now I think it is."
Frank Pomeroy now speaks at conferences about church safety and security and emphasized: "Prior to any emergency, you need to make sure that it's not a man, not a pastor, not a deacon body or organization at the head of a church. It's got to be Christ."
"The church has to have Christ at the forefront or they're not going to be able to have the spirit to get through the ordeal. People ask us how we did this. We didn't. God did — through us," he added.
"Prior to the shootings, we were a small church with a big heart. The Holy Spirit was always there. That's what brought us through. It's not even having a good security response team or about how many cameras you hang. We've got cameras. We've got a trained SRT. We've got nurses. We've done everything we can physically but all this is for naught if we are not spiritually prepared proactively before an event."
The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and a variety of other institutions are assisting with a project for a new building for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.