Faith leaders call for prayer, action

As local churches console families of the slain school children, others call for renewed dialogue on gun violence


"When something like this happens it tears at all our heartstrings."

—Brad Tefft

As the public struggled to make sense out of the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, faith-based organizations were offering prayers and suggesting ways to cope and respond to the tragedy.

Members of Newtown United Methodist Church, within walking distance of the school where at least 27 people were killed Friday morning, is serving as a respite center for the American Red Cross first responders and it was one of at least 19 area churches that planned a prayer vigil Friday night. The 600-member church opened its sanctuary for prayer Friday and has been reaching out the community according to its pastor, the Rev. Mel Kawakami. "We’re trying to keep our lines open." he added.

"We all feel for the families, and the kids and the teachers," Brad Tefft, a member of the church told a reporter for the Hartford Courant. "It's part of who we are. It's part of the fabric of what this community is like. When something like this happens it tears at all our heartstrings."

A community-wide interfaith service is expected to be held at the local high school Sunday night. The United Methodist Church is offering a prayer wall on its Facebook page.

Lutheran Disaster Response, which has been active in providing support for children impacted by traumatic events through the Camp Noah program, included a link on its Website to a guide for talking with children. It also called for prayer, quoting the Evangelical Lutheran Church presiding bishop Mark Hanson, who said, "Loving God, as Rachel wept for her children we weep for the children of Newtown & all who mourn the tragic loss of life."

Episcopal Relief and Development said it has "reached out to our local contacts and stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time." It urged its related faith communities to use materials prepared for children following the recent hurricane in helping to explain the tragedy to children and youth.

All three Episcopal bishops of the Diocese of Connecticut urged its clergy to open their churches for prayer and said they would be in Newtown to assist in the response. One of the town's Episcopal churches is adjacent to the school.

Archbishop Demetrios of the the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas, has announced he will also be in the area this week. He plans to visit the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in nearby Danbury Sunday, to offer pastoral support and guidance to the people of the area.

In addition to the calls for prayer for the families of the victims, a number of faith leaders also called for a renewed discussion of the role guns have played in this and other recent mass shootings.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) posted a "call to prayer and action" on its Website Friday afternoon. "In the aftermath of another mass shooting among us, we invite you to pray, use litanies and hymns in worship, act in your church and community to help end gun violence," the statement said. Links to resources were also provided.

In Laurel, MD, Saturday, St. Marks United Methodist Church will be exchanging holiday gift cards for guns. The collection, sponsored by Prince Georges County Police, was scheduled before the school shooting. Approximately 300 guns were turned in at an earlier event this fall.

The Dean of the National Cathedral, the Rev. Gary Hall, is also calling on the country to address gun violence. The Cathedral announced Friday that the Dean will preach on the subject Sunday. "In a political climate unwilling to address the realities of gun violence in America, a wide range of faith traditions including the Episcopal Church has strongly advocated gun control for several decades," he said.

"Washington National Cathedral pledges to pray for the victims, their families, the assailant, and the survivors. And we pledge to work with our national leaders to enact more effective gun control measures."

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