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Outdoor Sunday service in West honors those killed in explosion

Sunday Service
Posted at 4:23 PM, Apr 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-21 17:23:06-04

WEST, TX — On Easter Sunday, one community remembered its own resurrection.

The people of West will never forget the fertilizer plant explosion that shook the city on April 17, 2013. The blast killed 15 people, including 13 first responders.

Robert Payne was one of the many firefighters who rushed in to help that day. He survived, but his injuries left him recovering in the hospital for weeks.

"I remember arriving there, I remember talking to a couple of people there. I don't remember anything afterwards, until waking up in the hospital the next day," Payne said. "It was kind of a real shock to find out everything that happened. I lost a lot of friends."

The damage made it impossible for service to be held inside the First Baptist Church of West. Pastor John Crowder saw the need for his community to come together, so he arranged for service to be held in a field nearby that Sunday.

"When we came out here for the first time, we really didn't have a choice," Crowder said. "If we were going to have worship, this is all we could do."

Six years later, it's become tradition for the Sunday service following April 17 to be held outside.

"We've come back every year since then with different motivations," Crowder said. "Instead of desperation and hope, we come out of gratitude, to say look what God has done in taking care of us ever since then."

Payne missed the first service while he was in the hospital, but he's come out every year since.

"It means so much to come out and be with each other," Payne said. "To celebrate the fact that we made it through as a church, as a community and to remember all those who lost their lives as well."

On Easter Sunday, 500 people showed up for the outdoor service. Crowder said that's about the same as who showed up in 2013.

"We are a resilient community," Crowder said. "We come out here every year and see some of the same faces. That just kind of reminds us that we are going to stick together."

Through a single hour of worship, a community that's risen from the ashes is reminded of how far they've home.

"We've came together as a community to support each other, to help each other rebuild, it's just been an amazing journey in these six years since then," Payne said.

The Fallen Heroes Memorial in West was dedicated on April 13.