The site of the worst church shooting in U.S. history opened for the first time since the massacre as a memorial for the victims.
Handcrafted chairs stood in place of pews, one for each of the 26 victims of the shooting, each marked with the name of a victim painted in gold and sporting a rose. The surviving members of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, congregation entered the sanctuary Sunday for a private service commemorating slain family members before the memorial opened to the public according to the Huffington Post.
Footage from inside the First Baptist Church, which has been transformed into a memorial for those murdered last Sunday. pic.twitter.com/rS1aqIvrKy
— Melissa Jeltsen (@quasimado) November 12, 2017
The sanctuary will no longer be used for Sunday services, but will stand for the time being as a memorial to the men, women, and children who were killed on Nov. 5. Those who survived attended Sunday service led by Pastor Frank Pomeroy under a tent near the church one week after the shooting.
A construction crew began renovating the First Baptist Church as soon as local authorities finished an investigation. The crew removed the pews and installed the memorial chairs, as well as replacing the windows and painting the church interior white. An audio recording of congregation members reading scripture aloud plays over the sanctuary speakers.
“Everyone who walks in there will know that the people who died lived for their Lord and Savior,” Pomeroy, who lost his 14-year-old daughter in the shooting, said at the tent service.
The church stands as “too stark of a reminder” of the tragedy, Pomeroy said, adding that many of the congregants do not want to go back inside for continued services.
The renovation of the church and the Sunday morning memorial service attended by the survivors was meant to help further the healing process for all those affected by the shooting, Mark Collins, an associate pastor at the church, said in a press release.
“This is our church, but it is not just us that are suffering,” Collins said. “This tragedy has rocked our nation, and has had an impact on all Americans and our country as a whole. It is our hope that this will be healing for everyone.”
Church leadership has yet to announce whether the memorial will be permanent or if the church will be demolished in the future.
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