A child lights a candle at a vigil for the people who died in Sandy Hook.
By Susan Kim*
January 8, 2013—From Newtown United Methodist Church, Mary Hughes Gaudreau could see a makeshift memorial; the small two-lane road that leads through the Sandy Hook village was congested with people coming and going.
“What struck me about the community was that they were on a pilgrimage,” said Gaudreau, a US Disaster Response consultant for UMCOR, who traveled to Connecticut for four days just before Christmas to help guide the church's immediate and long-term spiritual and emotional care. The church has been a center of spiritual solace—and a magnet for national media—in the wake of the shooting deaths of 28 people, including 20 children from the nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“People really wanted to do something. That desire to act was coupled with a powerful sense of reverence,” she said. “People were very quiet, and people of all ages were extremely polite. Some people were handing out flowers to anyone who happened to be walking by.”
The church—and in essence the entire community—became a place where people drew together to collectively, often silently, say: this violence is not who we are as human beings.
“This was a very raw situation,” said Gaudreau, “and what the church offered was a strong sense of people who want to believe better about humanity.”
People across the nation—and even worldwide—want to reach out, and it's challenging to try to channel their desire to do something, said Gaudreau. Plans are still underway for future outlets for wider memorial contributions as Newtown UMC continues to serve its local community.
UMCOR's support for Newtown UMC is an assurance to the local community that the larger church is with them during a profoundly painful time, said Gaudreau, who continues to help guide the church's clergy and laity about the trajectory of trauma recovery. “We do know that there will be long-term impacts from what happened.”
Gaudreau said the strong leadership within the church, including Senior Pastor Mel Kawakami, Associate Pastor Jane Sibley, and Deacon Sue Klein, will help shape a vision for future healing. “The pastoral and lay leadership of Newtown UMC is providing outstanding, compassionate, and insightful leadership through one of the most challenging times in their church's history,” she said.
Many in Newtown UMC and the entire Sandy Hook community hope that in the coming weeks their hometown will become a national symbol of hope, and not one of violence.
“Amid the reality of suffering, there is this profound belief that suffering will not have the last word,” said Gaudreau. “It won't. I believe that.”
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.