SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The former pastor at the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church where aa week ago says the first service since the worst mass shooting in Texas history is the most attended in the congregation’s 100-year history.
Former Pastor Mark Collins said the First Baptist Church “is still alive” and is encouraging people to give themselves to Christ. He said those who died would want those supporting them now to stand up and give themselves to Christ.
Collins said there is hope, saying it’s only been seven days since the shooting and “already this community is back to worship, bound together by faith.”
Organizers set up hundreds of folding chairs under a large white tent on a baseball field in Sutherland Springs for the first Sunday service since the shooting, which killed more than two-dozen people. Church officials had expected about 500 people to attend, but dozens more chairs were added.
The front three rows were reserved for First Baptist Church members and their families. A steady rain fell on the tarp roof while church-goers slowly filed in. Some hugged and others prayed or sat quietly.
People from other churches dropped off handmade presents such as prayer cloths and tiny wooden crosses, and mental health organizations provided tissues and brought therapy dogs to the service.
The pastor of the church, Frank Pomeroy, said during Sunday’s service that evil was responsible for last week’s shooting. He said he wanted to ensure everyone who walked in to the service “knows that those who died lived for their Lord and savior.” He said rather than chose darkness as the gunman did seven days ago, “we choose life.”
Pomeroy’s voice cracked as he paused, and described the victims as “my best friends and my daughter.” He then wiped his eyes before saying: “I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today.”
The crowd stood, clapped and raised their hands to heaven.
Sunday was also declared a Day of Prayer in Texas by the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, who encouraged Texans to participate in a moment of silence in honor of the shooting victims at 11:30 a.m., CBS affiliate KENS reported.
© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.