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Art Of Healing For Community Of Sutherland Springs

First Baptist Church never sought out any artwork, said church secretary Windy Choate.

But dozens of pieces of art were still sent from people all around the country — artwork meant to bring strength and peace to a church community that lost 26 of its members.

Shortly after the shooting on Nov. 5, 2017, tens of thousands of people began sending cards and letters — and then came the art.

Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

“It was not just the paintings and pictures,” she said, “there were quilts and prayer shawls and beads and bracelets.

“Every decoration on the walls is from somebody."

Choate had attended the church for eight years, but it wasn't until April that she was hired to help sort the flood of cards, letters, and art from all over the world — art that dresses the walls of every room in the building, and even spills out in front of the church.

Choate points to four wooden picnic tables with scriptures engraved into them.

"The tables were handmade and scripture favorites of Brian and Karla Holcombe," she said.

Brian Holcombe was the visiting pastor that Sunday, as the regular pastor Frank Pomeroy was out of town. The Holcombes were killed along with Pomeroy's 14-year-old daughter Annabelle, who had stayed behind. Eight members of the Holcombe family were killed that day, including Crystal Marie Holcombe and her unborn child.

WATCH | Art Of Healing For Sutherland Springs


Back in Choate's office, a painting hangs behind her.

"It's done with watercolor, and obviously if you look at the picture, you can tell that there were tears when she did it,” Choate said. “You can see the water stains on it."

Lindsey Dailey, of Dallas, said she couldn’t stop crying while she was painting.

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"I woke up a few days after the shooting and I had had a dream of this image: The painting is a long row of angels and some have arms outstretched and some are just holding a dove — and there's 26 doves altogether," Dailey said.

The doves represent souls, she said, one each for those killed at Sutherland Baptist Church. Dailey said she normally uses easels for painting but this painting was different.

A sculpture by the Boerne welding tech program at Samuel Champion High School. !0/28/18
Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
A sculpture by the Boerne welding tech program at Samuel Champion High School.

"To me, grief lands you on the floor,” she said. “I don't know whose song that is but ... that one song that says we're all one phone call from our knees.”

That's Mat Kearney’s “Closer to Love,” which describes how tragedy is often just outside arm’s reach. And Dailey was struggling with grief for the victims and their families.

"There wasn't any peace throughout painting it,” she said. “I just felt all sadness. It was the hardest thing I've ever painted.”

But when the painting was done, she said the grief was lifted.

“Towards the end of finishing it, there was this huge sense of peace," she said.

It took her months to finally send it. She was reluctant at first because said she thought her offering would be insignificant to church members' suffering. But she sent it anyway.

"Of course we were very pleased and honored. One of our church members, Christy, went and got it framed,” Choate said.

Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Angel painting by Lindsey Dailey

Every painting, every fabric art, every welded piece has its own story, she said, including some pieces in the old sanctuary, where the shooting had taken place. Choate said it's now a memorial.

The carpet and benches are all gone and the room is painted stark white. Wooden folding chairs sit in the place where every church member died. A single rose and hand-painted names adorn each one.

"Someone had donated the chairs and another individual had written the names on each of them," Choate said.

The sanctuary itself works as art. A small metal tree behind glass hangs on the sanctuary's north wall. They call it “The Tree of Life,” and many of its leaves have inscriptions.

"The victims' names are all listed on there — on each leaf," she said.

While the people of Sutherland Springs suffered immeasurable loss, Choate said those who made art for them have helped soften the blow.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

“It's an immense feeling of being blessed and knowing that someone out there cares enough to take the time — not only just to send it — but it's the cost of it, the thought behind it,” she said. “They're praying for us. So it's a true blessing."

It's not yet been determined if the old sanctuary will stand, but a new church with twin towers is being built next door. One of those towers will be a memorial to those who died and will house most of the art that's been collected. 

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii