Sutherland Springs dedicates new worship facility

By Brandon Elrod

(SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas)—On Sunday, May 19, First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas took another step forward with the opening of its new church building. Southern Baptists rallied around the church following the tragic shooting that took place during the worship service, killing 26 people and injuring 20 on November 5, 2017.

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, dedicated a new worship center and education building on Sunday, May 19, 2019, one-and-a-half years after the November 2017 mass shooting that claimed the lives of 26 people. The stone construction represents the church’s resolve to remain in their community, and the light that emanates from a tower underscores the commitment to be a gospel witness in their community. Photo by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist Texan.

In the aftermath, church members continually pointed to God and their faith in Jesus Christ as what carried them through.

At Sunday’s building dedication service, pastor Frank Pomeroy referred to multiple ways his people have seen God reveal himself, despite the agony and heartache.

“Though there was tragedy, God brings roses out of the ashes,” Pomeroy said. “He brings glory through those who are called according to His purpose even when we don’t understand everything that is happening.”

United States Senator John Cornyn, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear and First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs survivors and leaders gathered for prayer ahead of the dedication ceremony of the church’s new worship facility on Sunday, May 19. Photo courtesy of Sen. Cornyn’s office.

The new facility was the culmination of Southern Baptist prayer, giving efforts and partnerships. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) funded construction of the building, which houses a new worship center, education space, a kitchen and fellowship hall, with gifts made through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program and through donations.

Southern Baptist churches came alongside their sister church in Sutherland Springs to ensure that the congregation’s ministry to their community never wavered. The new building, which was designed based on the wishes of the church, embodies their gospel witness.

Stone walls and two towers symbolize the church’s strength and resolve. One tower emanates light that can be seen from miles around, representing the church’s commitment to shine the light of the gospel to its neighbors. A simple memorial to victims pays tribute to those who died. The building’s cornerstone states what has been the congregation’s theme since the attack: “Evil did not win.”

“We are remembering those who have paid a price for this incredible facility, for the platform that we have, for the very fact that we are able to continue to share the gospel,” Pomeroy said.

J.D. Greear, Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., addressed attendees and shared how the hope of the gospel carries Christians through the most difficult of circumstances.

J.D. Greear, Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., recounted how the Southern Baptist family gathered around First Baptist Sutherland Springs after the Nov. 2017 attack on worshipers that claimed 26 lives. Greear told attendees “The Christian story never ends with death. It ends with resurrection.” Greear’s comments took place at a May 19 dedication service for the church’s new facility, which was made possible by Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program. Photo by Jane Rogers, Southern Baptist Texan.

“What makes the Christian message distinctive is not that it keeps us from tragedy, but what it does for us in the midst of tragedy,” Greear said. “God can use the worst that His enemy has and turn it for good.”

One of the ways that happened for FBC Sutherland Springs came through the outpouring of love from fellow believers.

“When the worst evil and the worst darkness intruded on this small congregation,” Greear said, “I am glad but not surprised to say that the best of who Southern Baptists are stepped forward to help.”

Approximately 500 people attended the dedication ceremony for the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, new worship facility, a year and a half after the tragic Nov. 2017 attack. Both the main sanctuary as well as an overflow room in the adjacent education wing where the service was livestreamed had a standing room only crowd. Photo by Jane Rogers, Southern Baptist Texan.

NAMB worked closely with Myrick, Gurosky and Associates (MG&A), a design and construction company based out of Birmingham, Ala., that has built hundreds of churches across the United States. MG&A recruited dozens of companies who donated $1.5 million worth of material and services to the project.

“NAMB’s instructions were simple,” said Scott Gurosky, president of MG&A. “Kevin Ezell [NAMB’s president] told us, ‘Get them what they need.’” Ezell also attended Sunday’s service.

During the dedication ceremony, the church remembered the lives lost as Mark Collins, previously on staff at FBC Sutherland Springs and now pastor of First Baptist Church, Yorktown, Texas, read the names to those who were killed. The church bell, relocated to the new building from the original sanctuary, rang each time Collins spoke a name.

The new First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, worship facility includes a memorial to the 26 people who lost their lives during the tragic Nov. 5, 2017 shooting. A photograph of each victim hangs on a piece of stained glass, and a vase of glass roses, one for each victim, sits on a pedestal in the corner of the memorial. NAMB photo by Brandon Elrod.

Sherri Pomeroy, Frank’s wife, then shared the story of Karla Holcombe who died along with seven other members of her family, including an unborn child. The church did not own the property where the new building rests prior to the tragedy, but Holcombe often walked around and prayed over the empty lot in faith that the church would one day own the land.

“This land was given to First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs without a penny of the budget…being spent,” Sherri said to applause. “[Karla’s faith] is the kind of faith that this church was built upon.”

The testimony of God’s faithfulness through tragedy shone brightly across the United States, the world as well as the town of Sutherland Springs.

Sherri Pomeroy shared a testimony alongside her husband, pastor Frank Pomeroy, during the dedication ceremony for the new building of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sherri told of how her friend, Karla Holcombe, regularly prayed that the church would acquire the land where the new building stands. Holcombe died during the shooting. Photo by Jane Rogers, Southern Baptist Texan.

“As people drive through Sutherland Springs in the future,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during the dedication ceremony, “people will know this is a place where goodness triumphed over evil.”

United States Senator Ted Cruz of Texas shared remarks through a prerecorded video. U.S. Senator John Cornyn, also of Texas, attended and delivered an address during the ceremony that underscored how the church’s testimony had encouraged many around the globe.

“The darkness this congregation witnessed was unfathomable,” Cornyn said. “You came face to face with inexplicable, senseless evil…but through your grief, you never let darkness win. On your walk through the land of shadows, you never lost your faith in the Lord.”

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published May 20, 2019