As worship services wrapped up Sunday morning, churchgoers across the conference began to hear the terrible news out of Sutherland Springs. The tiny town about 40 miles east of San Antonio was rocked this morning when a gunman opened fire inside First Baptist Church, killing at least 26 and injuring 20 more.
Rev. Peter Aguilar, pastor of Floresville United Methodist Church and a chaplain for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was the first chaplain on the scene. He was taken by the first responders, "who worked with diligence and attention while maintaining their humanity." He also noted "the bravery of faith communities in the midst of extreme horror."
Aguilar said the small community of 400 had come together at the community center within an hour, bringing food, water, and support.
Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference, called Aguilar upon hearing the news to offer the support of the conference. Schnase said, "This was an outrageous, senseless, and tragic act. We pray God's blessings on families, friends, and the entire community. We pray for those who will face rebuilding their lives after such deep loss. We pray for those who were injured, that God's healing grace may be upon them."
"Each death by violence diminishes each one of us," Schnase continued.
This tragedy ripples through this entire area. Many of the victims were family members of Floresville UMC members. The church was also in ministry together with First Baptist. When Floresville UMC started a food pantry, First Baptist members were the first to jump in and help.
The Floresville church held a prayer service Sunday evening at 6:00.
"We had to respond," said Aguilar. "Where else can you try to find strength and meaning in times of chaos?"