Still healing from tragedy
By Wendy Healy
It’s been a year since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that gripped the country in shock, fear, uncertainty and debates about preventing gun violence. For the community of Newtown and the family and friends who suffered great loss and trauma, the healing and recovery continues — the rebuilding of hope and trust continues.
One year later, ELCA congregations in the nearby towns of Monroe, Brookfield, Danbury and Ridgefield are looking back and remembering how this tragedy has affected not only the people of Newtown, but also their own congregations and communities.
While there is a need to mark the day, find ways to move forward and care for each other, congregations are also concerned about honoring Newtown’s request for privacy.
There was no one central memorial service to commemorate the Dec. 14 anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, but a vigil was held on Dec. 12 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., remembering the 20 children and six adults who were killed.
ELCA pastors and congregations in surrounding towns participated in local ecumenical services and offered prayers during their own Sunday worship services.
“Prayer is one of the best responses when people don’t know what to do,” said Doug Ryniewicz, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Monroe, the ELCA congregation closest to Newtown.
The anniversary was particularly meaningful for Good Shepherd because students from Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was demolished earlier this year, were transferred to a school in its town.
Responses of prayer, service and kindness
Doug planned to offer a pastoral prayer and reflection at Monroe’s ecumenical service on the morning of Dec. 14. “Each church will then choose their own way to participate and act in service and kindness,” he said. “The response of Christians to violence is to act with kindness.”
Mark Nordskog, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Brookfield, planned to include prayers for the people of Newtown at the Christmas Concert on Dec. 8 and again during worship services on Dec. 14 and 15.
Gaylon Barker and Carla Meier, pastors of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Ridgefield, will participate in a community-wide service. Several congregation members live in Newtown, said Gaylon, and the community is very sensitive to this tragedy. “If it could happen in Newtown, it could happen anywhere,” he said.
Doug also remembered the Sandy Hook saints on All Saints Day in November. The congregation, he said, didn’t immediately connect the festival day with the recent Newtown shooting. “We connected that and it brought up strong feelings. Some people were glad to have healing in this way, while a few people had to leave the sanctuary and compose themselves.”
The comfort and hope of faith
Doug, who is also a therapist and accepted the call to Good Shepherd last summer, said that the theology of the Lutheran church is helping people work through the shock and recovery after a tragedy like this.
As Lutherans, he said, we find comfort in the cross. “The moment of God’s greatest power is the crucified Jesus. The identification of God in solidarity with those who suffer.”
We also have the ability to be honest about God and the realities of life, he added. “In Christ, things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise. Evil is not winning the day, nor is violence winning the day. But Christ holds us. God’s light and love holds the preciousness of the children and the adults. There is much more going on here — it’s both/and.”
Gaylon said that the people of St. Andrew’s have found comfort in the same thinking faith. “God is with us in those moments of despair.”
Moving forward and healing is not easy and doesn’t happen the same way for everyone. But God reminds us that we are not alone, and our faith is a powerful and very real source of comfort and hope.
Wendy Healy is an ELCA member and owner of Griffin Communications in Danbury, Conn.