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Church serves as help site in shooting wake

By United Methodist News Service
3:30 P.M. ET Dec. 14, 2012

Members of Newtown United Methodist Church in Sandy Hook, Conn., are "still holding our breath" to learn the full impact of the Dec. 14 shooting at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, said the Rev. Mel Kawakami, the church's senior pastor.

"We're trying to keep our lines open," he said. "We have already tried to reach out. We have communications circles that are trying to canvass our congregation."

At least 27 are dead, including 18 children, according to the most recent news reports, in what is already one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The shooting came less than a week after a gunman killed two holiday shoppers across the country at an Oregon mall.

The church - which has about 600 members - is within walking distance of the elementary school. Kawakami said the church already is serving as a respite center for Red Cross first responders, and its sanctuary is open for prayer. The church also plans a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. EST Dec. 14.

Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after a shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A web-only photo courtesy of Shannon Hicks/The Newtown Bee.
Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after a shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A web-only photo courtesy of Shannon Hicks/The Newtown Bee.

"We are in the midst of Advent, and the light is coming," Kawakami said. "And we are praying for the light."

New York Area Bishop Martin McLee, whose episcopal area includes the community, offered words of comfort to United Methodists.

"Friends, in the midst of this tragedy draw closer to your loved ones, especially the children," his letter said. "Reassure them of God's love and your love. While we cannot undo this carnage, we can respond with the message of hope and healing that our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ offers to us all. Through the tears of a nation, remember the promise of the Psalmist: 'Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning' (Ps. 30:5)."

President Obama struggled with emotion in addressing the tragedy.

"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. Each time I hear the news, I react not as president, but as a parent. That's especially the case today," he said. "Many of the victims were between 5 and 10 years of age. They had their entire lives ahead of them. &ellipsis; Our hearts are broken today."

Prayers and reactions began appearing on social media right after the shooting.

"Years ago, on a Holy Land tour, I visited Rachel's tomb. People of all ages surrounded her tomb weeping and praying for their children," wrote Deen Thompson, lay leader of Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., on Facebook. "Today this experience and words from the Bible become today's reality. 'A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted because they are no more.' God help us..."

The Rev. Beth A. Richardson, editor of "Alive Now" magazine, published by Upper Room, offered this prayer:"Loving God, comfort your people in the midst of the tragedy of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Comfort all who mourn, God of Healing. We pray to you, Amen."

The United Methodist Church is offering a prayer wall on Facebook.

The denomination's communications agency, United Methodist Communications, also is planning to place messages of support and hope in local newspapers.

The United Methodist Board of Discipleship is offering resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.

In addition, the United Methodist Publishing House's Ministry Matters site has a resource page, "When Tragedy Strikes Children."

*Heather Hahn, Joey Butler and Barbara Dunlap-Berg with United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.

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