July 14, 2024

HOUSTON (AP) — Celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch held a special service Sunday dedicated to healing and thanksgiving a week after a woman opened fire in one of its hallways before being gunned down by security officers.

Osteen’s Lakewood Church has not had services since the Feb. 11 shooting that sent worshippers scrambling for safety. On Sunday, Osteen, his wife Victoria Osteen and members of the church staff who lead Lakewood’s Spanish ministry sat in chairs on the stage and spoke about the shooting, how it has impacted Lakewood’s community and how the church was moving forward.

“You just got to know Lakewood is strong and it keeps getting stronger,” he said. “Fear is not going to win. Faith is going to win. We are going to move forward.”

Church leaders thanked the security staff and others who responded during the shooting and protected parishioners. Osteen invited Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Police Chief Troy Finner to the stage and thanked them for their help after the tragedy. Attendees gave officers and security staff a standing ovation.

“After the tragedy of last week, (God) had a purpose in bringing us together to show how united our city is,” Whitmire said during a fiery and emotional speech.

As Osteen and others spoke, people in the audience could be heard saying, “Amen” and “Thank you, God.”

“What today is about is reclaiming what is ours, reclaiming the space that God has provided for all of us,” Victoria Osteen said.

Officers from various law enforcement agencies, including Houston Police, walked the hallways during and between services Sunday.

Church spokesperson Don Iloff said 40 to 50 uniformed and plainclothes officers typically work every church service. He said he did not immediately know if that number was higher Sunday.

Police say Genesse Moreno, 36, entered the church between Sunday services with her 7-year-old son and began firing an AR-style rifle. Moreno did not reach the main sanctuary and was killed after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty officers. Two people were wounded in the shooting, including Moreno’s son, who was shot in the head and remained hospitalized.

Osteen, who wiped away tears as he spoke, said he was praying for the boy.

Moreno “came to do a lot of harm, but by the grace of God, we are all here,” Osteen said. “Lord, I know she was troubled in her mind.”

Jocelyn Edwards, 39, who attended one of the two Sunday morning services, said she felt it was important to be there and support Lakewood.

“This is not the end,” said Edwards, who has attended Lakewood since 2015. “We are not broken. We are going to move forward.”

Beth Mast, 50, was also at Lakewood on Sunday with her husband, two daughters and three sons. The family lives in Crockett, Texas, and every week makes the 1½ hour trip to Houston to attend services. She has been a member of Lakewood for the past four years.

Did Joel and Victoria Osteen Resign from Lakewood Church? | Snopes.com

“We come every Sunday, and the enemy is not going to stop us,” Mast said. “Fear is not going to have any power over us just because of a bad incident.”

Vera Andronenkova, 54, and her godson Richard Fijas, 33, who both live in Chicago and usually watch services online, said the shooting was a sign that they needed to finally come to Houston and visit the church.

“A lot of people, they asked us, ‘Aren’t you guys afraid to go?’ We did not let that fear stop us,” Fijas said. “We felt like this was the week to come.”

Finner told reporters after the service that investigators were still trying to determine Moreno’s motive and learn more about how she obtained the AR-style rifle she used.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *