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Recovery will take time say experts

BY GEORGE PIPER | LITTLETON, CO | April 24, 1999

LITTLETON, CO (April 24, 1999) -- In the days following the horrific

massacre in Littleton, area churches and other faith-based organizations

have opened their arms to members and strangers in an endless stream of

prayer vigils and worship services.

Each word and action seems to solidify the community's faith, supported by

attentive ears of counselors, as survivors tell their tales and ask how

something like this could happen. Students contribute to the healing

ministry by openly praying together and comforting one another.

But as Littleton prepares to say goodbye to the 15 people who died during

the shooting tragedy on Tuesday at Columbine High School, local clergy are

planning the transformation from grieving to healing.

"It's important to understand that our lives have been shook; they've been

devastated," said the Rev. Ken Summers of Dakota Ridge Assembly of God,

where four Columbine students and a security guard attend. "We need to

emerge out of this ... as something different than what we were."

Summer is part of a cross-denominational prayer group of 25 or so ministers.

He expects that network to assess and respond to local churches needs as the

recovery progresses.

As people rebuild their lives, Summers believes they should strive to make

different commitments in their lives instead of returning to the life they

led. Similarly, Summers advocates a long-term prayer commitment to local

schools. The issue isn't prayer in school as much as it is prayer for the

schools, he says.

At one worship service, the minister at Columbine United Church, Steve

Poos-Benson, urged people to place candles in their windows as signs of

light shining in the metaphorical darkness resulting from the tragedy.

Faith organizations in Littleton and surrounding towns are doing a good job

in giving survivors faith-based outlets, notes Bob Barnes of Presbyterian

Disaster

Assistance (PDA). In addition to worship services, the faith community is

working ecumenically to plan crisis training and other long-term projects.

Other national faith-based disaster response organizations are also

responding to the tragedy. Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) is working with

Lutheran Family Services of Colorado in providing trauma and grief

counseling support through church gatherings, according to Gil Furst, LDR

director. The United Methodist Church, through its United Methodist

Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and The Upper Room, has sent counselors and

other resources to help survivors recover emotionally. Church World Service

has said it will also provide aid as it is needed.

Barnes says he is particularly concerned about the coming months when the

present deluge of counselors and media leave town. He anticipates returning

with a PDA crisis team and expects that people will find that they may be

hurting more than they realized.

Many area teenagers, Barnes says, are collectively torn between getting

back to school and fearing a return to Columbine. He also reports many of

the youth have what has become known as "survivor guilt."

In addition to local churches, the Denver-area Salvation Army and American

Red Cross have been providing meals to emergency workers and others

affected by the tragedy. Salvation Army served more than 5,000 meals in the

first three days following the tragedy with canteens established at the

school and nearby Clement Park, said public relations coordinator Christy

Ziemba, adding that area restaurants and business have donated food for the

effort. The organization is also providing counseling.

Staff from the American Red Cross served some 3,000 meals through Thursday

and received some 2,000 calls at its counseling hotline, says Matt Bertram,

director of communications for ARC's Mile High Chapter. The organization

also is distributing a brochure, "Helping Children Cope with Disaster,"

explaining how children react to disaster and offers advice on meeting a

child's emotional needs.

Local pastors are coordinating a community-wide memorial service Sunday

(April 25) at Dakota Ridge High School. Also on Sunday in Clement Park,

next to Columbine High School, a service is planned with Vice President Al

Gore

scheduled to attend. A regional memorial service also is slated for 2 p.m.

Sunday, May 2, at the Denver Coliseum.

Ed Stauffer, an emergency services chaplain who trains chaplains and

pastors nationwide in emergency response, said that long-term response to

this crisis will likely include assistance from counselors nationwide who

specialize in youth trauma.

"This is going to be a very long-term recovery process," he said. "Pastors,

chaplains, mental health professionals, police, teachers, families --

everyone, I mean everyone, will have to work together to get through this.

When I heard about the tragedy -- even though I deal with death all the

time -- I could just feel a physical reaction set in. You couldn't have

made up that story, it's so incredible. We live in one of the most violent

and chaotic societies imaginable."

Posted April 24, 1999


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