SAN ANTONIO — Members of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs have voted 69-35 to tear down their old church building.
It’s the site where a gunman killed 26 people and wounded almost two dozen more in 2017, but Roxanne Wellman-Steier remembers the sanctuary as so much more.
A small wooden structure sits on Wellman-Steier’s coffee table. During his time as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs her father, Reverend Kenneth Wellman, created several of these miniature churches from the remains of the neighboring Spanish Assembly of God.
“He built larger ones, he sold them, he sold them, he gave a lot away, but mostly he sold them as resurrected Texas churches.” Wellman-Steier said. “Through this, the Spanish Assembly of God Church lives on.”
Living on is her wish for the old First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs building. No longer a member of the church, she says she was devastated to learn the congregation voted to demolish it.
“Most of those people are new and they’re good people, Brother Frank Pomeroy is very good at growing a church and loving the people,” she said. “But the people who were there when I went there, most of them are in the cemetery now… They’re not there to say anything about what it was like and all the goodness that was in the church.”
Around the world the structure has become associated with images of violence and death, but for Roxanne it conjures up names like Cowan, Baker and McNutt.
“Mrs. McNutt basically plunked on the piano, she was very good at her plunking, and Coleman led the singing,” she said. “And I would give most anything to have one Sunday night service with those two and the rest of the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs back in my day.”
When thinking about the fate of the church, she says another famous Texas structure comes to mind.
“I can’t imagine what San Antonio would be like had the demolished the Alamo because something dreadful took place there,” she said.
Roxanne describes the church, built in the 1940’s, as the taproot that the community of Sutherland Springs grew out of. She acknowledges that it is the property of the church, but feels the whole community has a stake in it.
“It is a piece of the community. And the community, not all of them being members of that church, the community actually didn’t have any say on it,” she said.