SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – The North American Mission Board on the behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention has confirmed it has offered to cover funeral expenses for all shooting victims in coordination with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).
Ministering in the wake of the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history, Southern Baptists say they’ve witnessed “God at work” despite the 26 dead and some 20 others wounded at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Local pastors and field personnel with the SBTC began providing grief counseling within hours of the shooting at First Baptist’s morning worship service Nov. 5.
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page plan to arrive in Sutherland Springs today (Nov. 7) to offer prayer and encouragement. SBTC executive director Jim Richards arrived yesterday (Nov. 6).
Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., told Baptist Press SBC leaders want to help First Baptist however they can.
“Yesterday as we prayed at Bellevue for the families of those slain and also the others who were wounded at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs,” Gaines said in written comments, “I sensed the need to go there and try to minister to the pastor and his wife and their devastated congregation. I discussed it with Frank Page and Jim Richards, and we all agreed to go and help any way we possibly can. Our Southern Baptist family grieves with this beloved church and the community it serves. Our prayers are ascending steadily to God’s throne of grace. May God bring healing and hope to these that are hurting.”
Page said he and Gaines hope to “show our love” for the Pomeroys, congregation and town.
“Both Dr. Gaines and I had other commitments this week in state conventions, but prayed together and felt led of God to go see if we can minister in any way, however small, in that terrible setting,” Page said. “The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, represents who we are as Southern Baptists — a conservative, multi-generational church led by a bi-vocational, godly pastor. [The church] reflects the core of who we are. I call Southern Baptist churches to pray for these dear people.”
SBTC field ministry strategist Mitch Kolenovsky told BP a sister church some three miles away — River Oaks Baptist Church — knew about the shooting almost immediately because the congregation’s first responders all were called to First Baptist during River Oaks’ morning service.
River Oaks altered its service and began to pray. Soon, it sent pastor Paul Buford to help comfort survivors.
Initially, friends and family members of victims gathered at a small community center, where eight or nine Southern Baptist pastors from the local Gambrell Baptist Association offered counseling and prayer, Kolenovsky said.
Eventually, River Oaks opened its facility as a shelter for family members. Disaster relief chaplains from the SBTC and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) were on site into the early Monday-morning hours to provide grief counseling and continue to minister in the area.
First Baptist Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town when the shooting occurred and whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among the dead, told reporters the church’s tragedy will exalt Christ.
“Christ is the one who’s going to be lifted up,” Pomeroy said at a Nov. 6 news conference. “That’s what I’m telling everybody. You lean into what you don’t understand. You lean into the Lord … Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. I don’t understand, but I know my God does. And that’s where I’ll leave that.”
Pomeroy’s wife Sherri, who also was out of town during the shooting, expressed her thanks for an “outpouring of love” by friends, community members and even total strangers.
She added “as much tragedy as” Annabelle’s death “entails for our family, we don’t want to overshadow the other lives lost yesterday.”
“We lost more than Belle yesterday,” Sherri Pomeroy said. “One thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact Belle was surrounded yesterday by her church family that she loved fiercely, and vice versa. Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together and worshiped together.
“Now most of our church family is gone, our building probably beyond repair and the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday. … Please don’t forget Sutherland Springs,” Sherri Pomeroy said.
This article includes reporting by the Baptist Message and Baptist Press staff.