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Sutherland Springs held its first church service since mass shooting

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More than 500 people attended the first Sunday service since a gunman stormed the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and killed 26 people in the worst mass shooting in Texas history, according to the Associated Press.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy led an emotional sermon that called on mourners to worship in the face of evil.

"Rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life," said Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was among those killed in the Nov. 5 rampage.

"I know everyone who gave their life that day," he said, pausing to gather himself. "Some of whom where my best friends and my daughter." He paused to wipe his eyes. "I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today."

The service was initially planned to be held at the community center next to the First Baptist Church. But when organizers realized hundreds of people planned to attend, the service was moved to a massive white tent erected in a baseball field.

So many people turned up that the tent's side flaps had to be opened so that those who couldn't get a seat could see and hear what was going on inside.

Mark Collins, a previous pastor at First Baptist, said it was the largest gathering in the church's 100-year history.

The front three rows were reserved for survivors of the attack and the families of those killed. Twenty-six chairs were left empty in honor of those who died.

Church officials have said the building will likely be demolished.

For Sunday's service, people from other churches dropped off handmade prayer cloths and tiny wooden crosses, among other gifts.

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Mental health organizations provided tissues and brought therapy dogs to the service.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn spoke at the service, saying lives were stolen as darkness overtook one man's heart.

"The pain of losing 26 members is overwhelming," Cronyn said. "Many lives have been changed forever. ... I can't imagine what you've been grappling with ever since."

On Saturday, about 100 people gathered outside the community center to commemorate Veterans Day and honor the shooting victims, nearly half of whom had Air Force ties.

"Maybe this will start the healing process that will get Sutherland Springs and Wilson County to put this horrific tragedy behind us and look to the future," county Judge Richard Jackson, his voice breaking, told the Saturday crowd, which included first responders and law enforcement officers.

Jackson, the county's top administrator, thanked the first responders and others who rushed to First Baptist Church in the aftermath of last Sunday's shooting, which also wounded about 20 people. What they saw there will affect them the rest of their lives, Jackson said.

Church officials have said the building will likely be demolished.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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