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Texas Baptist Church Opens New Sanctuary After 2017 Mass Shooting

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. A new church sanctuary opened its doors in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs this morning. About a year and a half ago, First Baptist Church was the site of a deadly mass shooting. More than two dozen people were killed, and many others were wounded. Joey Palacios of Texas Public Radio reports that church members hope their fast rebuilding effort will serve as an inspiration to others.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: The new sanctuary was full during a public memorial, where the names and ages of the 26 people killed were read aloud, and the bell of the church was rung for each one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK POMEROY: Sara John Johnson, 68.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

POMEROY: Lu White, 71.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

POMEROY: Joann Lookingbill Ward, 30.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

POMEROY: Brooke Brianne (ph) Ward, 5.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

PALACIOS: This is the same bell that was in the sanctuary where the shooting happened. The new bell tower is now the tallest building in Sutherland Springs, a town of about 500 people. First Baptist Church pastor Frank Pomeroy says he hopes the new building will bring hope to people.

POMEROY: It'll be a beacon on a hill that people can look to wherever they're at and be reminded of what God's done here. It's not about the building, but it's about the provisions of God and what he's done for us over these last 18 months.

PALACIOS: On November 5, 2017, a gunman stormed the small sanctuary behind the new building. He killed 26 people and injured 20 more. Pomeroy's 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among those killed. His wife, Sherri Pomeroy, says it's been an emotional rollercoaster in these past 18 months.

SHERRI POMEROY: Everybody's on a different spot in the grief scale, and that's OK. 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.

PALACIOS: The new church and community center is sprawling compared to the previous sanctuary. Most of the building materials and work were donated with help provided by the North American Mission Board. Many survivors of the shooting were at the memorial. Gunny Macias is one of them. He was shot five times. He says that this is more than just a building.

GUNNY MACIAS: To me, this church means - this building - I'm sorry, this house because it's God's house. We're the church. So I see glory that God prevailed. You know, it was a dark, dark day. But God shined his light, and life grew.

PALACIOS: Since the shooting, many of those here in Sutherland Springs have adopted a mantra that says evil did not win. Julie Workman is another survivor. She says those that are still here are meant to help tell the story.

JULIE WORKMAN: 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.

PALACIOS: The original sanctuary still stands and serves as a memorial. Its future is uncertain, though. Pastor Pomeroy says it will always be hallowed ground, but the church membership will decide if it stands or it's demolished.

For NPR News, I'm Joey Palacios in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEIBYS MARQUEZ AND FERNANDO PICON SONG, "SECRET LOVER (VOCAL MIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.