When Pastor Frank Pomeroy took the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Sunday, he brought with him an unusual prop: his green-and-white Harley Davidson motorcycle, which was parked at the front of the nave.
In his sermon, Pomeroy spoke about the physics of riding his motorcycle, specifically the uneasy feeling of leaning into a curve as the bike balances precariously on two “credit card”-sized patches of tire. He also revealed the inspiration for his message that week: Annabelle, or “Belle,” his 14-year-old daughter, clinging to him on one of their rides, had squeezed her knees into him during a curve – which he called an “incredibly normal” impulse.
An experienced motorcyclist going through a curve, though, will look ahead, not down, letting the unseen forces around him “take care and take control” to ensure he stays on the bike, Pomeroy said.
“The way we live our life is just a lot like how you take a curve in a motorcycle,” he added. “If we look too close to the road that’s whizzing by us right now, if we pay too much attention on what the situation is that’s around us right now, we tend to lose our bearings. We tend to start making decisions based on our emotions. We tend to start making choices based on the momentary, rather than the goal that’s put out before us.”
In other words: look beyond the curve, to the straightaway. Annabelle had ridden to church with Pomeroy on his motorcycle that morning. She wore “house shoes” instead of boots and complained she couldn’t feel her feet by the time they arrived.
One week later, Pomeroy confirmed Annabelle was one of 26 people killed at his church after a gunman opened fire on the congregation with a semiautomatic rifle. Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town Sunday.
Pomeroy’s motorcycle sermon, titled “You Don’t Need Training Wheels, You Need Christ!” is available online — one of 168 videos of services uploaded and archived on the First Baptist Church YouTube page, which launched in October 2014. This log offers a glimpse into the church sanctuary and its fellowship before tragedy struck the congregation.
The services often featured live music and regularly included not the customary church organ, but electric guitars and a television screen that showed song lyrics so attendees could sing along. The church was a place for families, and young children are visible in much of this footage.
Sermon titles like “Don’t Allow Jezebel to Steal Your Soul!” are offset with more nurturing offerings such as “Cuddling With God.”
The YouTube page shows an unusually robust social media presence for a congregation of approximately 50 parishioners, in a town of less than a thousand people. Its Facebook page is equally active, with recent uploaded photos showing the church Fall Festival Halloween celebration held Tuesday. Pomeroy had asked parishioners to pray for the safety of the attendees at the event that he said would show the world “that it’s OK to have fun in God’s house.”
Given the extent of the church’s online outreach, it seems likely, or at least possible, that this week’s service was being recorded as the gunman charged in and opened fire, and that could prove useful to investigators who have not yet shared any details on a possible motive.
The shooting, which claimed victims ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years old, is believed to be the deadliest shooting at a house of worship in U.S. history, and is the deadliest shooting in Texas history, the state’s Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday night. In addition to the 26 dead, at least 20 more were injured.
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