The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs broke ground at the site of a new church on Saturday, six months after a gunman killed more than two dozen people during Sunday services.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy led the community on a prayer walk around the church to a vacant lot where the new church will stand.
“Father God, we just come before you this morning humbly to proclaim your righteousness,” he said.
In front of hundreds of onlookers, he blessed the lot, which has served as a memorial since the shooting.
Before the dedication ceremony, the bell of the First Baptist Church rang 26 times – once for each victim. Sherry Pomeroy, the pastor's wife, then read aloud the victims' names.
“We’ve purposely planned this groundbreaking on today’s date to help us to remember and celebrate the lives our friends and family lived," she said, "not to dwell on the manner in which they died."
The Pomeroys’ 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among those who were killed.
Frank Pomeroy told the crowd the ceremony was one of unity and compassion, and not about a building.
“I believe that God is going to use the buildings, he’s going to use the facilities, he’s going to use the parking lot, he’s going to use the tree that grows in the midst in the parking lot – whatever it is – he is going to use it for his glory," he said, "if we remember our sanctuary is in him."
Survivors and relatives of the victims were the first people to dig into the ground. Among them was Kris Workman, who is paraplegic after being shot twice. He said he has faith that God will help him find meaning in the tragedy.
“This is what God does," he said. "We read in the Bible the stories of bad things that happen, and then God takes them and turns them and spins them for good.”
Since the shooting, Sunday services have been held in a temporary building set up nearby. Inside is a collection of artwork sent to Sutherland Springs from people across the U.S.
It will take a little less than a year to build the church, which will seat about 250 people. Some of the building materials will be donated, and the North American Mission Board, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, will pick up the rest of the costs.