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6 months after massacre, Sutherland Springs pastor says nation should put God first

A statue of Friar Junípero Serra, one of two statues that represent the state of California in Statuary Hall, is seen in the foreground as a National Day of Prayer event is held in the Capitol on May 3, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The pastor whose Sutherland Springs, Texas, church was the site of a November massacre prayed at the U.S. Capitol for a country where God is honored in statehouses and schools.

“Forgive us for taking you out of our schools,” prayed Pastor Frank Pomeroy on Thursday (May 3) before a kneeling crowd. He listed churches, capitols and various public venues among “all the places that need to put you first.”

Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were interviewed briefly by National Day of Prayer Task Force President Ronnie Floyd in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall during his task force’s national observance of the annual prayer day. The organizers of the Christian group hold a yearly event on Capitol Hill and help organize and promote tens of thousands of prayer events across the country.

“I would say that it is a learning process and we are still in that process,” said Frank Pomeroy of the personal grief he and his wife are enduring after losing their daughter and more than two dozen other church members.

But he also sees hope in the growth in his church and the bonding of his community: “From the blood that was spilled, from the ashes, glory is rising.”

On Nov. 5, a 26-year-old gunman entered the worship service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and killed more than two dozen people. One of the victims was the Pomeroys’ 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, whom they adopted at age 2. They were away on the weekend when violence struck their 92-year-old congregation.

At the six-month anniversary of the attack, Floyd addressed the couple before asking them how their lives had changed since the tragedy.

“You have been so prayed for, and you’re so loved even though most of us don’t know you,” Floyd said as they stood in the circular room filled with bronze and marble statues of famous Americans.

Now when Sherri Pomeroy hears of violence at a high school in Florida or a Waffle House in Tennessee, she feels differently than she did half a year ago, she said.

“I think of how I didn’t pray enough before because it couldn’t have happened to us,” she said. “And now we’re on the other side so we’re more aware, more in tune with those things that hurt so many people.”


RELATED: Prayer and a packing pastor: A church’s response to a mass shooting


Sherri Pomeroy described her daughter as a “special little girl” who would often greet people with a “giant hug.” She sees divine direction in their loss.

“She loved life and she loved her God and she loved her church family fiercely,” her mother said. “She would not have been able to deal with the loss of all her church family so God took her with them and with some of the ones she loved the most.”

Sherri Pomeroy said they are comforted too by their belief in heaven.

“Certainly, our lives have been turned upside down but we’re able to get through the days just one breath at a time because we know there’s hope in Jesus Christ and we know where all our family is that was taken, all of the victims from the church we knew personally,” she said. “We have not a doubt where they are.”

Verly Fairbanks, left at podium, and Negiel Bigpond offer prayers for “unity among all ethnicities” at a National Day of Prayer event in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on May 3, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Surviving church members are worshiping in a temporary, prefabricated sanctuary. Plans are underway for building a new edifice that will largely be funded by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

For most of the several minutes they stood before the more than 300 people, including pastors and ministry leaders attending the event, Sherri Pomeroy kept her head down. Her husband wiped his eyes several times.

The National Day of Prayer has been observed since 1952, following an act of Congress. The law was amended in 1988 to call for its observance to be marked on the first Thursday of May.

The theme of the day was “Pray for America: Unity.” In addition to prayers for security, the Capitol event included prayers for unity among leaders in the branches of government and among people of different racial and ethnic groups.

“A divided church cannot call a divided nation to unity,” Floyd said. “When we pray we need to pray that somehow, some way God will pull us together.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

23 Comments

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  • ““Forgive us for taking you out of our schools,” prayed Pastor Frank Pomeroy on Thursday (May 3) before a kneeling crowd”

    As I understand it anyone is free to pray to whatever their god, and read their sacred book(s) in US state-funded schools; albeit with some restrictions as to when when and how (like in class, or when there is a potential for coercion).

    One would expect a Pastor with a recent degree from Texas State University to know the situation, or at least that he would know how to ascertain the facts.

    Accepting that he may just be surprisingly ignorant is difficult – the alternative (that he lied) is to call his Christianity into question.

    The event was awful, losing his daughter must have been terrible but, this side of the pond, someone who claims to be the shepherd of a flock would be expected to remain truthful and honest in the face of such evil.

    The result of this action (assuming it to be reported correctly) has to be that this “pastor” is more interested in playing politics and promoting himself than in preaching the gospel attributed to Jesus Christ.

    Ultimately, the sad thing is that he may have been in a position to make a valuable and beneficial contribution to American society – but by making the statement he did renders his entire address inadmissible in the considerations of honest folks.

  • LOVING CORRECTION NEEDED:

    For even these agonizing words of hope:

    “‘We have not a doubt where they are’ … [said] Frank Pomeroy … and his wife, Sherri … [referring to massacre victims] their daughter and more than two dozen other church members.”

    No, as all my atheist f[r]iends can tell you, the dead are dead, rotting & decomposing in their graves as we speak. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists say the same thing, pretty much, kind of. They’re right.

    Only, however, if these victims had been trusting & following THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation TO THE VERY END, brutal or otherwise, can I rightfully visit their graves with a promise, to say:

    BE WELL DEAD ASLEEP UNTIL THE RESURRECTION, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus!

  • Replace “Christ Jesus” with ” Mohammad ” and this comment achieves true ecuminism….

  • “When we pray we need to pray that somehow, some way God will pull us together.”
    Exactly what our airborne godly brethren were saying on 911….

  • Like this? “Only, however, if these victims had been trusting & following [Mohammad] TO THE VERY END, brutal or otherwise, can I rightfully visit their graves with a promise, to say: BE WELL DEAD ASLEEP UNTIL THE RESURRECTION, my beloved brothers and sisters in [Mohammad]!”

    But Muslims don’t visit fellow Muslims’ graves to say that. Also they don’t share the hope of resurrection. What are you talking about? How is that even “true ecumenism”? Or were you speaking in Atheismese? Sorry no speak Atheismese. No speak Christianese either here.

  • “Forgive us for taking you out of our schools,” prayed Pastor Frank Pomeroy on Thursday (May 3) before a kneeling crowd.

    What a load of wing nut propaganda. God was not taken out of schools, forced government sponsored prayer was taken out. Perfect example of evangelical twisting of facts for their political agenda and for having a wall where it really belongs, between church & state.

  • No, we should not put God first !! The pastor says…

    -> “Forgive us for taking you out of our schools,”

    If real — how is it possible for an omnipresent god to be driven out of schools or anywhere? And why is it that God allowed (or caused) the massacre in the pastor’s church…not the local public school where he was apparently taken out of?

  • Considering the attack was of someone personally connected to the church, a little deflection was in order.

  • “She loved life and she loved her God and she loved her church family fiercely,” her mother said. “She would not have been able to deal with the loss of all her church family so God took her with them and with some of the ones she loved the most.”

    So, God made a conscious choice to take the Pomeroy’s daughter along with all the other victims. But then the glaring question is why didn’t God simply make a conscious choice to stop the massacre from happening?

    After the most gruesome events, many people will do anything to twist their thinking in order to continue justifying the praise, glorification, and worship bestowed upon their god . . . in a desperate effort to personally avoid receiving his eternal damnation. But, if these people were rational, the gruesome events would help nudge them toward thinking that their god may not exist.

  • Correct me, as I know you will, if I’m wrong; but do you deny the doctrine of Hell? Further, Have you set yourself up as the one gifted to determine whether the victims were trusting and following the Christ of the Bible? Sometimes by your remarks it seems so. I see no reason to suppose that the victims were not what they professed to be, but only The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit know for sure.

  • As to your side of the pond, from there it’s a long throw, save your arm and toss stones at the pastors on your side, some of whom are well deserving of it; for far more heinous acts than that of this pastor.

  • I did say: “IF these victims had been trusting & following THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation TO THE VERY END”, did I not?

    2nd death – eternal torment – is yet to come but it shall be a permanent reality. Not now, though.

    What’s the point of the believers’ resurrection if they’re already in heaven with God & Jesus at the moment of death?

    Uh ‘scuse me there, HpO. Sorry to interrupt your heavenly state of afterlife. But it’s that time of the resurrection. You gotta go back to your graveyard for that before you get resurrected.

    And I go, Wha… B-b-but I’ve pretty much settled in. Can I just skip resurrection ’cause y’know I’m already hanging out in heaven with y’all?

  • Much better that “gruesome events would help nudge them toward thinking” of THE “gruesome[st]” of ALL “gruesome events” that was the Son of God CRUCIFIED.

    Let’s hear now of your alternate take on “gruesome events” the atheist way. Go ahead and be lauded.

  • We have our own religion-based problems of course – but they are mainly, ISTM, due to our institutionalised religion(s) rather than the more overtly commercialised “pastor-based” system that is much more powerful in much of the US.

    Our few “non-conformist” churches are generally struggling (as are the CoE and the RCC) and the growth in pentecostalism/fundamental christianity is from a very small base. Such individual pastors have a limited impact on the lives of the area they infest – and the likes of Robertson/Graham/Hinn/Meyer et al have very little impact outside a tiny base – in fact they are generally unknown and, when found on YouTube etc., their antics are the source of a mixture of merriment and disbelief. We have, IMO. a legitimate interest in ensuring that their baleful influence is minimised – since they, and their political associates, are actively seeking to expand their vicious vision to the UK (and everywhere else).

    My point however was the, as I see it, revealingly sad case of someone who claims to be driven by a perfect God wasting an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by toadying a political position.

  • Re: “The result of this action (assuming it to be reported correctly) has to be that this ‘pastor’ is more interested in playing politics and promoting himself than in preaching the gospel attributed to Jesus Christ.”  

    Well, yeah. Sure! After all … what good is it to be the good Christian pastor of a good Christian church full of good Christian people, if not to call for prayers in public schools? Right?  

  • ” But then the glaring question is why didn’t God simply make a conscious choice to stop the massacre from happening? ”

    A profound question. I was in a church one time and the pastor said that Satan cannot come in here. I thought how that made perfectly good sense. But now I realize that Satan ‘can’ go just about anywhere he chooses. I wish I knew why that is true today.

    To say that ‘thinking that their god may not exist’ is not a sufficient or good enough explanation.

  • I grant that politics and religion make strange bedfellows, Pilate and Herod were apt examples of that. I prefer not to be linked to Meyer or Hinn especially as I suspect them of unorthodoxy, theologically speaking. Robertson is, I think, a befuddled old man at this point. As to Graham, I largely have no problem with him, perhaps in deference to his late father.

  • I understand the gist of that argument, and have at least a partial answer for it, but the fact that I have a clearer understanding of your position on the “unpleasant hereafter,” causes me to be reassured. I can more readily make allowance for your argument regarding the position of believers between death and the resurrection than I can for arguments that deny the doctrine of Hell.

  • floydlee & I seemed to be the only ones defending the biblical doctrine of hell during the readers group discussion of the news RNS had put out recently of Pope Francis’ denial of hell.

  • I’m not convinced that Francis, in fact, denied Hell based on what I’ve read. For my own part, given the fallen nature of humanity, I often find it easier to comprehend hell than I can heaven. I’ve often attempted to defend the doctrine on these pages, but sometimes the conflict becomes tiresome.

  • Re Graham – I listened to the father at Wembley -1963/4?

    The event was staged to create an atmosphere in which rational thought was overpowered by emotion. As though the sales team had taken Luther’s “to be a Christian you must first pluck out the eye of reason” to heart.

    I understand that the churches involved were very disappointed by the low percentage of those who “went forward” that were still in contact six months later. A few stuck – but many fewer than the hype lead them to expect.

    The son, IMO, is a desperate, weak and bigoted incompetent who will sink to pretty much any depth in order to to try to maintain the, at best dubious, business he inherited.

  • I will say this, apropos of nothing; with the exception of a few people, I commend all those who comment here in the passion of their beliefs. It suggests that people do care about these issues, wishing to be both thoughtful and committed. I respect that in everyone regardless of their particular points of view. In the end it bespeaks a genuine search for truth.

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