Candles and luminaries lighted the way into town hall on Sunday evening for “An Hour of Compassion and Remembrance” from 5 to 6 in light of last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.
Local church leaders also reflected on the tragedy during morning services on Sunday and some during the evening hours in conjunction with the town’s vigil.
A vase of white carnations, a red teddy bear and lit candles were placed in the town hall lobby for the 26 people who died in Newtown. The horrific event that took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School by a shooter was still fresh in people’s minds.
More than 150 people, young and old alike, crowded into town hall’s conference room while many others stood outside the room. The candlelit room was quiet except for the soothing acoustic guitar music of Doug Hartline, town health officer and a musician.
Children clung to their parents and adults clung to each other, seeking comfort and solace.
Part of healing is being able to come together, said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham. She stood in front of a simple vase of white tulips with candles glowing on each side. At the back of the room was a table also alight with candles.
Ms. Ketcham said it was a time to reflect and share feelings with one another or to simply “not be alone in our homes suffering.”
Greg Griffin read poems by John Donne, including “No Man Is An Island.” Candy Wood, the town’s emergency information officer, shared a poem by M. Scott Peck and one by Wayne Muller. Ms. Ketcham read “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
There were times for reflection and for people to share their thoughts with each other. State Sen. Toni Boucher also addressed the crowd. In her earlier statement, she said Newtown will need prayers and support in the coming days.
Outside, two adult members of Boy Scout Troop 15 offered hot chocolate to those who had ventured out on a cold and dreary night to be with other community members to share their grief.
The Rev. Marilyn Anderson, Christ Church rector, said a prayer service was conducted on Sunday at 5 and another had been held on Friday at 7:30 p.m. “for people to process the initial shock of the news. At the Sunday service, she said, preaching was on dealing with the tragedy.
“We are trying to help people to answer the question ‘Where is God in all of this” and how to reconcile tragedy with a loving God.
“People are looking for comfort. … We need comfort from God and comfort from the community,” Ms. Anderson said. “It’s important the community gathers so we can support one another.”
A little child asked, Did God plan this? Rev. Anderson said. This is a good chance to ask questions out loud, and the answer is that God doesn’t plan tragedy but helps us through it.”
The First Church of Christ, Congregational, hosted a vigil between 5 and 6 p.m., said the Rev. Jack Davidson, associate minister. An estimated 80 to 100 people attended.
“Most of the time we spent together was spent in silent reflection and prayer. We had a table of candles up front, with one candle for each victim. We read each name aloud. It was a reminder that even though the victims are physically gone, their light will shine forever in this world and the next,” said Mr. Davidson.
He and the Rev. Dr. Dean Ahlerg, senior minister, did all of the talking, he said. “There are few words that are appropriate in a time like this, so when we spoke, it was either words of scripture or words of prayer. We also sang Silent Night and Amazing Grace.
“Looking out at the people in attendance, it was moving to see parents holding their own kids, finding comfort in presence,” he said.
“The most touching part about Sunday night was seeing a large number of the Redding first responders dressed in uniform. It was a good reminder of all of those who experience a lot of emotional trauma and take a lot of personal risks in order to protect the average citizen,” said Mr. Davidson.
Sunday morning at the church’s regular service, the meeting house was completely full, he said. “Respecting that not every kid has been told about the event, we talked about being sad and things that make us feel better. Dean preached a sermon that gave voice to all of our sorrow and hope to all of our struggle.”
Both Sacred Heart and St. Patrick Roman Catholic churches kept their doors open on Sunday evening.
St. Patrick’s Father Joseph Cervero said the church was open until 11:30 p.m. on Sunday but at 5 he had an opening prayer and then asked people to allow for an hour of quiet reflection and compassion, and “to let God send his peace to us.”
There were “a good number of people in and out of the church” during the day, he said.
Father David Leopold of Sacred Heat Church said the church was open all day, until 9 p.m. on Sunday. He said no service was planned since there was no opportunity to publicize it, but it was announced at Sunday’s Masses that the church would be open.
“We said it would be good to come in for private prayers for the families who lost loved ones last week,” he said. Father Leopold added that prayers were offered for the Newtown families and the country during all five Masses this past weekend.
“It seems that our nation has lost its moral compass. We talked about bringing God back into the public forum. There has been an effort in recent years to push any mention of God out of the public discussion. If we don’t acknowledge the existence of God, people’s awareness of right and wrong disappears,” he said.
Temple B’nai Chaim opened its doors between 5 and 6 p.m., but there were services earlier in the day, said Rabbi Leah Cohen. There was a Service of Comfort attended by 250 to 300 people in the morning for families. “The goal was to create a message of comfort appropriate to all ages, from kindergarten to grandparents,” Rabbi Cohen said.
The service focused on a few themes — healing, community, courage, memory and spirit — with liturgy and music as part of the program. Children played different instrument and there were two adult solos. There was a session just for adults that preceded this program. It focused on finding the words to speak to children, oneself about the tragedy.
Rabbi Cohen said it is nice to know the community is coming together. “This was a great tragedy,” she said about the Newtown shootings. “It is so easy to focus on what was evil, but we also need to look at the courage of the grieving families, the teachers, the adults and the first responders.”