Hundreds attend first service at Sutherland Springs church since mass shooting

(Reuters/Rick Wilking)South Texas pastors pray at the site of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Hundreds of worshippers gathered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday to take part in the first service since the mass shooting that has left more than two dozen people dead.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who lost his daughter in the massacre, delivered an emotional sermon in which he assured the congregation that the community can move past the evil that attacked the church a week ago.

"I know everyone who lost their life that day, some of which were my best friends, and my daughter," Pomeroy said, according to Gospel Herald. "And I guarantee without any shadow of a doubt they are dancing with Jesus today. God gets the glory," he added.

The church had initially planned to hold the service at an adjacent community center, but the organizers decided to move the event to a massive white tent erected in a baseball field after realizing that hundreds wanted to attend.

After the sermon at the tent, the congregation was invited to return to the church for the first time since the massacre.

CBS News reported that the church's floor and pulpit had been painted white and the broken windows and ceiling tiles had been replaced. The bullet holes have been filled as well and the church's pews, the carpet and all equipment had been removed.

Twenty-six white chairs had been set up inside the church bearing the names or nicknames of each victim painted in gold. Each chair had a red rose tied to it, except for one that had a pink rose for the unborn baby.

Pomeroy has previously said that he wanted to demolish the church and erect a memorial in its place. But former associate pastor Mark Collins announced at the end of the service that next Sunday's service will take place at the sanctuary where the attack took place, and Sunday school classes will resume.

The service was also attended by Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who later compared Pomeroy to a shepherd leading his flock through difficult times despite his own tragic loss.

"It's clear they're people of deep faith. And that's what sustains them and gives them hope, even during dark times like this," Cornyn said after the service.

"I saw him standing there at the front of the church, comforting others. It's remarkable, but it's a testament to their faith and their compassion for others during this very difficult time," he added.

During the attack, the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, reportedly went aisle to aisle looking for victims and shot crying babies at point-blank range. After the assault, he was chased and shot by two men who heard the gunfire at the church.

Kelley, who died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, reportedly had a dispute with his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended services at the church but was not there on the day of the shooting.

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