Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, the Texas house of worship that was the target of a deadly mass shooting in 2017, welcomed congregants into a new sanctuary on Sunday.
The space is three times the size of the previous location, local news station KXAN reported. A memorial room was built next to the sanctuary to honor the 25 churchgoers who were killed by a 26-year-old former U.S. Air Force employee, in what became the state’s worst mass shooting in modern history. Half the victims were children.
During Sunday’s service, the names and ages of the victims were read, including the name given to a pregnant victim’s unborn child. As each name was spoken, the church’s restored bell, which hung in the previous structure, tolled.
In a message of strength, Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the massacre, reminded worshippers that the bricks and mortar are not what matter most.
“What I pray that everyone will remember is the church is still thriving, and the church is not the building,” he said. “It’s all who have the blood of Jesus Christ within their heart and up on their soul.
Elected officials including Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, spoke at the service, all delivering words of hope to the church.
“The opening of this new worship center ushers in a new era of healing for this congregation and for the entire town of Sutherland Springs,” Abbott said. “I have no doubt that God will continue to work through this community to write the next chapter for the remarkable and faithful people of Sutherland Springs.”
In a tweet Sunday, Cornyn praised church members for their resilience, stating that he felt “honored” to be at the service.
“No community should ever have to face tragedy like this, but in the face of hatred, they never let darkness prevail,” the senator said.
Soon after the shooting, the Air Force revealed that it had not recorded shooter Devin Patrick Kelley’s domestic violence conviction in a federal database that would have prevented him from purchasing a gun. The oversight allowed Kelley to pass a handful of background checks and then buy firearms legally.