SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — After the mass shooting at First Baptist Church, a command center was needed to help investigators, disaster relief teams and families of the dead.
So the town turned to the only other civic institution here capable of handling it all — another Baptist church.
In Sutherland Springs, a crossroads hamlet with one flashing red light, two gas station/convenience stories and a Dollar General store, churches are the bedrock of the community. That’s where life is lived and people are cared for.
Within 24 hours of the shooting that left more than two dozen people dead and many others injured, River Oaks Church sprang into action, turning classrooms and meeting spaces into a crisis center for governmental services and disaster relief teams, from the Red Cross to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Deputy sheriffs guarded the entrance and turned away scores of media organizations to allow victim families to come and go freely.
That the two Baptist churches, about 3 miles apart, form the mainstay of this small town is not surprising. Founded in 1926, First Baptist Church and the much newer River Oaks — originally formed in 1948 and then rebuilt and revitalized in the 1990s — nourish and sustain the town.
Extended families — such as the eight members of the Holcombe family, spanning three generations, who died in the shooting — attend one or the other church.
“Our churches are interconnected by families along with friendships,” said Paul Buford, the pastor of River Oaks Church. “Some of the people from over there will come and visit here and some of the people here will go and visit there because they want to be around friends. We work together on everything in the community. We’re the body of Christ, so that’s what we do.”
There are other churches in the area: Mt. Zion Fair Baptist, a…