Members of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs dedicated their new home and formally opened its doors on Sunday.
In 2017, a gunman killed more than two dozen people during Sunday service in the original church. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
A little more than a year after the groundbreaking for the new building, survivors, relatives of victims and church members gathered for a private service Sunday morning before a public memorial.
During the second memorial, the names and ages of the 26 people killed were read aloud.
The church bell, moved from the old church to the new one, rang after each name. The new bell tower is now the tallest building in Sutherland Springs, a town of about 500 people.
First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy hoped the new building will bring hope to people.
“It will be a beacon on a hill that people can look to wherever they’re at and be reminded about what God’s done here," he said. "It’s not about the building. It's about the provisions of God and what he’s done for us over this last 18 months.”
On Nov. 5, 2017, a gunman stormed the small sanctuary. He killed 25 people and an unborn child and injured 20 more. Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among those killed. His wife, Sherri Pomeroy, said the last 18 months were an emotional rollercoaster.
"Everybody's on a different spot in the grief scale, and that's OK," she said. "You know, we're here to lift each other up. When somebody has a bad day then somebody else is having a good day, and that balances things out just like in any relationship."
The bell being rung in the new bell tower is the same one that hung in the original sanctuary of First Baptist Church. Pat Dziuk rings it for the first time in the new building as the names of the 26 killed in the church shooting are read. @TPRNews #SutherlandSprings pic.twitter.com/ISCC84ZYxH
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) May 19, 2019
Many survivors of the shooting were at the memorial, including Gunny Macias. He was shot five times. He said this was more than just a building.
“I see glory that God prevailed," he said. "It was a dark dark day but God shined his light, and life grew.”
Since the shooting many in Sutherland Springs adopted the mantra "Evil Did Not Win."
Julie Workman is another survivor. She said those that are still here are meant to help tell the story.
“We’re left here to tell the story of God’s grace and mercy and his hand and protection that went on that day to show that God is alive and well,” she said.
The new church and community center was sprawling compared to the previous sanctuary. Most of the building materials and work were donated with help from the North American Mission Board.
The original sanctuary still stands and serves as a memorial. But its future is uncertain. Pomeroy said it will always be hallowed ground but the church membership will decide if it stands or is demolished.