Every Sunday for about an hour, the white walls of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, vibrate with hymns, prayers and sermons praising Christ. That was until a gunman took the lives of 26 people and injured 20 others during Sunday’s morning service.
The immediate future of the church is unclear. But a look through more than 160 videos of its Sunday services, posted on the church’s YouTube page, reveal glimpses of an intimate congregation who bonded through religious music and a shared faith.
The videos show an unpretentious worship hall whose altar is little more than a carpeted stage. The low ceilings hum with fluorescent lights and ceiling fans.
A landscape painting adorns the wall behind the podium, while a red carpet covers the floor. A single wooden cross, an American flag and two black stereo speakers all hold spots near the front of the church.
Most services appear to draw several dozen people, many of them casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts. They exchange greetings and hugs in the caramel brown pews, or chat in the aisle until the service begins. Kids roam the hall, some swaying to the beat of the music.
Each service starts with hymns, performed by several musicians playing guitars on stage. Two flat-screen televisions on either side of the altar display the lyrics so the congregation can sing along.
The church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, doesn’t start preaching his holy lessons until he’s encouraged his congregation to greet each other. In the most recent video – a week before the shooting – everyone shares hugs, smiles and handshakes as a chorus of “God is good all the time” rings out in the background.
It’s a scene from a more innocent time.
When it’s time for his sermon, Pomeroy takes the stage behind a wooden podium that matches the pews. His sermons often tie Scripture to everyday life, under such titles as “Psalms 137 - Put the Cell Phone Down” and “Luke 4 - Satan’s Tackle Box.”
Last week, Pomeroy parked his cream-colored Harley Davidson in front of the altar to deliver a message about leaning on God’s understanding versus one’s own understanding. He called the sermon “You Don’t Need Training Wheels, You Need Christ,” and used personal stories about riding the bike to bring his lesson home.
“Lean on the Lord, though it may not make sense in our finite mind – just as leaning into a turn may not make sense,” Pomeroy told the congregation. “Leaning into God is the way we should go, because God’s got it figured out whether we do or not.”
Each Sunday, the service ends in prayer. The words aren’t always the same, but the sentiment is the promise of a better tomorrow for this small, close-knit community.
After Sunday’s massacre, which wiped out some 4% of the town’s population, that message may be needed more than ever.