A Texas church where more than two dozen people were killed in the deadliest shooting in the state’s history has opened its doors to congregants and the public for the first time since the tragedy.
The inside of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs had been transformed into a memorial when it was opened Sunday, one week later. Broken windows and ceiling tiles had been replaced. Bullet holes were filled.
But the vibrant church’s sandy stained pews, the carpet and all equipment had been removed. The walls, floor and pulpit were painted white.
Twenty-six white chairs – including one for the unborn baby of one victim who was pregnant – were placed where each congregant was sitting when they were shot. A red rose was tied to each chair, and a pink rose for the unborn baby.
Names or nicknames were painted in gold on each chair. A recording of scripture readings from a previous church service played as small groups of people walked around the room silently.
The former pastor at the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church where a gunman opened fire a week ago says the first service since the worst mass shooting in Texas history is the most attended in the congregation’s 100-year history.
Former Pastor Mark Collins says the First Baptist Church “is still alive” and is encouraging people to give themselves to Christ. He says those who died would want those supporting them now to stand up and give themselves to Christ.
Church officials had expected about 500 people to attend Sunday’s service but dozens more chairs were added. The flaps on the sides of a tent that’s serving as the worship site had to be lifted so hundreds more outside could see and hear.
Collins says there’s hope, saying it’s only been seven days since the shooting and “already this community is back to worship, bound together by faith.”