Just seven days after it became the scene of the deadliest shooting in Texas history, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, reopened its doors on Sunday to commemorate the 26 lives lost just one week prior.
Gone were the church pews and carpeting, replaced only by solid white flooring, and 26 individually handcrafted chairs, each representing one of the 26 worshippers who were fatally shot inside those four walls on Sunday, November 5th.
Every victim’s name was beautifully scribed on a chair in their memory, and accompanied by a single red rose.
In addition to the 26 red roses, one single pink rose sat on a chair in representation of the unborn baby that Crystal Holcombe was carrying when she was savagely killed.
“Everyone who walks in there will know that the people who died lived for their Lord and Savior,” Frank Pomeroy, the First Baptist pastor, said on Sunday morning at a service the church hosted inside of a tent. “I know every single name, everyone who gave their life that day,” he said. “They were my best friends and my daughter. And I guarantee beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are dancing with Jesus.”
Isaiah 61 says the Spirit of the Lord is alive in me, to comfort those who mourn and provide those who grieve with a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
God promises beauty from ashes will rise. This week, amidst the shock, grief, mourning and despair, He did just that.
As soon as law enforcement processed the final evidence from within the church earlier this week, a construction team took over and quickly began renovating the small sanctuary. Once home to church pews and blood-stained carpet, the horrific scene was transformed into a tranquil space, where loved ones could honor those who lost their lives.
Before members of the media and the general public were allowed to view the moving tribute on Sunday, family members of the victims were escorted inside for their own time of reflection and healing.
Footage from inside the First Baptist Church, which has been transformed into a memorial for those murdered last Sunday. pic.twitter.com/rS1aqIvrKy
— Melissa Jeltsen (@quasimado) November 12, 2017
Mark Collins, an associate pastor of First Baptist, said in a press release that he hoped the tribute would be healing for the community and those who lost loved ones to evil last Sunday.
“This is our church, but it is not just us that are suffering,” Collins said. “This tragedy has rocked our nation, and has had an impact on all Americans and our country as a whole.”
It is still uncertain as to whether or not the church will remain a memorial site for the victims, or eventually be torn down.
Frank Pomeroy announced last week that the church will not gather again at its existing site for worship services, as there are “too many who do not want to go back in there.”
For now, the house of worship will be open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for those who wish to visit.