Sutherland Springs church to hold closed Sunday service

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX - NOVEMBER 09: Workers replace the bullet-scarred front door of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on November 9, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The door was being replaced with a new one after a gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, shot and killed the 26 people and wounded 20 others when he opened fire during a Sunday service at the church on November 5th. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs will hold a Sunday service one week after a gunman killed more than two dozen worshippers and wounded 20 more.

The service will take place in an adjacent community center and will be open only to remaining congregants, members of the community and people from neighboring areas, a church representative said Friday.

“The healing process is going to be ongoing and … services are a step in the right direction,” said the representative, who did not want to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. “I think it’s going to take a really long time, and I don’t think the effects are going to go away anytime soon.”

On Facebook, Sherri Pomeroy, wife of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, said the service would “show the world that we may be knocked down temporarily but WE ARE NOT DEFEATED.” The Pomeroys’ daughter, 14-year-old Annabelle, was killed Sunday.

Meanwhile, the reopening of the By His Grace pantry, which is next door to the church, offered the stricken community another chance to mourn Friday as the charity resumed its weekly operations. People crowded inside, tearfully hugging and filling bags with donated bakery goods, groceries and used clothing.

The pantry’s director, Lula White, was among those killed in the shooting. She was the 71-year-old grandmother of the gunman’s wife.

As 68-year-old Brandy Johnson walked in, she flinched and said she could “see Lu at the desk.” White “had a heart as big as Texas,” she said.

Judy Green, along with her husband, Rod, have operated the pantry for 11 years. She said she has slept little since Sunday, waking up screaming from nightmares. The couple were not at the service Sunday but later watched as worshippers were carried out in body bags.

“It is fresh in my mind. I see it all - just over and over and over,” Judy Green said.

Law enforcement officials have reopened the intersection where the First Baptist Church stands, but black mesh material was tied to the chain-link fence surrounding it. With the bullet-riddled church door open, a tall wooden cross could be seen at the altar.

At annual Veterans Day observances Saturday, the church victims with military backgrounds will receive a full military salute on the grounds of the community hall, said Alice Garcia, president of the unincorporated town’s community association.

“Everyone in the community is doing what they can, but honestly everyone feels so helpless,” 20-year-old Karyssa Calbert, of neighboring Floresville, said at the hall.

While some people might want to get back into a regular routine right after a tragedy, it’s important to acknowledge that others might need more time - and therapy - to cope, said Tomas Yufik, a clinical psychologist at St. Edward’s University.

For some people, returning to the scene could help, while it could trigger painful memories for others, he said.

Frank Pomeroy told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention this week that the church would be razed because it would be too painful for to continue using the building.

“There’s too many that do not want to go back there,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Before the church is demolished, it will serve as a temporary memorial, said Rod Green, who also serves as the grounds steward for the church. The building will be scrubbed down and whitewashed, and chairs will be placed inside — one to commemorate each of the dead.

Meanwhile, funerals have started. On Thursday, more than 500 people attended a private service at a San Antonio-area Air Force base for Scott and Karen Marshall, a husband and wife who both served in the military, said Randy Martin, spokesman for the 12th Flying Training Wing.

Eleven people remained hospitalized Friday with wounds from the shooting.

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