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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.”


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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.

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