Seeking Refuge at Church, Residents of Newtown Turn to One Another

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Houses of worship all across Newtown, Connecticut have been open day and night since news of the shooting ripped through the town Friday. People have been gathering to pray, try and make sense of the tragedy or just be with others. 

Members of the Trinity Episcopal Church are grappling with the question of how to help those directly affected, as well as how to move on.

Amy Dent left a Sunday morning service in tears. Clutching a handful of tissues, she stepped through the red door of Trinity church into a cold, light drizzle that matched the mood of those attending morning service, after learning the names of the 26 victims from Friday’s shooting. She was overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the deaths and didn't know what to do to help. “One of our neighbors' children was killed, a grandchild of a friend was also killed. I don’t know how to help,” she said.

While some members struggled with this sense of helplessness, others focused on the little things they could do, from a hug to an arm for support.

Counselors were on hand at the service and the church’s Reverend Kathleen Adams-Shepard urged the congregation to make use of them. She had been at the Fire House when 20 families awaited word on their kids, and ultimately got news that they had dreaded.

The Wheeler family that attends the church regularly lost  six-year-old Benjamin. Adams-Shepherd is also helping another family prepare to bury their daughter. They aren't members, but they didn't have a church of their own.

As Terri Gottleib, who is part of the vestry of the church said, all this is too big for any one person to handle alone. She spent Saturday at the church office fielding calls from people looking to help those who have lost loved ones, as well as from a family making arrangements for a funeral for their child.

During the sermon, Adams-Shepherd noted all the help that had been pouring in, people offering plots, or offering to pay for funeral services so the families didn't have to worry about those types of details. She also urged members of her flock to help in any way they could, from bringing food for the memorials and helping set up chairs and tables, to donating money or so families could focus on mourning and healing.

As Bishop Laura Ahrens notes Friday’s killings, with so many children involved, is especially difficult. She and two other bishops traveled to Newtown to help as Trinity’s Adams-Shepherd attended to families directly affected.

“At this point it’s a lot of hugs and a lot of hand-holding and a lot of prayer. The important thing now is for us to just be together,” she said.

Adams-Shepherd urged people to be together during this time. She helped organize the interfaith service and had been urging everyone to attend., until President Obama’s attendance scuttled those plans. But she noted that one member had offered up their home so congregants could watch together. And she promised an interfaith service that residents of Newtown could attend, once the media leaves town.

For her and for others there, it was important that the town, whose motto is “nicer in Newtown,” not join the ranks of Columbine and Virginia Tech, known first and foremost for shooting massacres.

Amongst all the grief, Adams-Shepherd also had a hopeful message.  Earl Gordon who attended the service explained.

“Find the pinpoints of light and broaden them out and bring something good from this instead of dwelling on the tragedy of it entirely.”

As a line from a prayer at the sermon said, "May wounds be healed, losses grieved and honorable deeds remembered.”