Pastor Frank Pomeroy gave his last sermon before retiring from his church in Texas that garnered national headlines in 2017 when a shooter entered its sanctuary and killed 26 people, including the pastor’s daughter The pastor said he felt God wanted him to preach on Paul’s letter to Ephesian church elders.
It was Nov. 5, 2017, when the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, who was discharged from the U.S. Air Force after serving one year in military prison, entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during a Sunday worship service and killed 26 people, including Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle.
Kelley, who fled the scene, was then wounded by a neighbor and National Rifle Association instructor, and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Five years later, Pomeroy, who has served in the church for 20 years, told Baptist Press that the Lord gave him his final sermon before his retirement while he was hunting in the wet and cold Alaskan bush.
As he thought about what his final sermon should be, “God kept bringing me back to, this was an opportunity for me to share what’s important for the church to continue on, and that’s when He … led me to Paul’s letter to Ephesus (Acts 20) and we just went from there.”
The church survived the tragedy by choosing victory, Pomeroy said.
“We could have been validated by the world to choose hate and ugliness and play the victim card,” he preached past Sunday, “or we could choose to say we are not victims, we are victors. We choose to put our faith in something greater than ourselves. … I don’t understand, but I know I can’t go back and change what’s already done, but I choose from this day forward to say, ‘Lord, You are in control.’ And God has taken that, has made Sutherland Springs a lighthouse on a hill.”
The pastor told the congregation that the church continues to receive letters that say, “I was an atheist, but because of the way you guys handled this situation …” because “we chose to lift up Jesus.”
He added, “Whether I’m here physically or not does not change the fact that God does not leave,” he told the congregation. “You are the church. Each one of us individually is the church. We assemble together as First Baptist Sutherland Springs.”
His farewell sermon was on Acts 20:17-35.
Pomeroy also spoke to Baptist Press about his daughter’s death in the 2017 shooting.
“There’s still ups and downs, and I don’t think you ever fully handle the loss of a child,” he was quoted as saying. “But as a family in Sutherland Springs, not just my biological family but the church family, we chose to look to something greater than ourselves for understanding.”
He added, “Although I might have done things differently, God has brought so many to Christ through this. God’s using her martyrdom and the others to bring others to His saving grace.”
In May 2019, the FBC Sutherland Springs congregation officially held their first service in the new sanctuary, which was attended by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Their previous building has been converted into a memorial for the victims.
Last August, the FBC Sutherland Springs decided to demolish the building where the tragedy occurred.
Members of the congregation voted 69 to 35 to demolish their former sanctuary. According to news station KTSA San Antonio, the building was considered structurally unsafe.
When people ask Pomeroy what the new sanctuary cost, he tells them, “26 lives,” he was quoted as saying.