Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Members of Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas gathered Sunday for the first time since the mass shooting that killed 26 people there last week.
About 200 chairs were set up in a tent donated by a private San Antonio business. Hundreds of people were expected to come together from Texas and elsewhere to attend the Sunday service, which began at 11 a.m.
The First Baptist Church building will also be open to the public at 5 p.m. as a memorial site and will maintain hours throughout the week.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was killed in the shooting, returned to lead the service after he and his wife were out of town last week.
"There's going to be tears," he said.
Addressing the crowd, Pomeroy said the congregation can't let the actions of 26-year-old gunman Devin Patrick Kelley keep them from participating in their services.
"We have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness like the young man did that day, we choose the light," he said.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn also delivered a message praising the resilience of the county's residents.
"I want to assure you that across this great nation people are praying for you and doing what they can to hold you up," he said. "God bless you all and the community of Sutherland Springs."
Wilson County Judge Richard Jackson, the county's top official, said he hoped the ceremony would allow the small town to begin to "put this horrific tragedy behind us and look to the future."
"I hope that this is the start of the healing that everyone here needs," he said. "That county has been in turmoil, and for a lot of folks, complete healing might never come. But it has to start, and that's what I hope happened just now."