17 December 2012
Newtown shootings: nowhere to turn but towards the love of God
It is at times of great suffering that the Church can wrap its arms around the brokenhearted, demonstrate the love of God in the midst of senseless killing, and offer comfort to those in distress.
And the faith communities at the heart of the Connecticut town where young children and their teachers were killed last week have been doing just that.
On Friday morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked in to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and shot and killed 12 girls, eight boys and six adult women.
Up close. Several times.
CS Lewis once wrote: "When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all."
For many, in the midst of such tragedy, there has been nowhere to turn but towards the love of God.
Jimmy Greene, a jazz musician aged 37, lost his daughter Ana Marquez-Green, aged six, in Friday's shooting.
Posting on his website before the tragedy, he wrote: "In my life, there is but one constant, the one thing I can rely on, no matter what I'm dealing with, and that's the steadfast love of God."
On Saturday, he posted on his Facebook page: "As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise. I love you, sweetie girl."
Over the weekend, Robbie Parker, whose six-year-old daughter Emilie was killed in the shooting, faced the world's cameras and spoke fondly of his daughter's kindness and the gifts she had been given "by her heavenly Father".
But he also – with his family's personal tragedy fresh in their minds – extended a hand of compassion to the family of the man who killed his daughter.
Addressing all those who had been affected, he said: "It's a horrific tragedy and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them.
"This includes the family of the shooter. I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you and I want you to know that our family and our love and support goes out to you as well."
He added: "Let it not turn into something that defines us. But something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people. Let us please keep the sentiments of love that we feel for our families and the compassion that we feel for others – even complete strangers – and keep them with us at all times. Not just in times of sorrow and tragedy."
Many churches in the local area have become places of refuge, prayer and reflection over the past few days.
Pastor Rocky Veach, who leads Connections Church in Newtown, told the Huffington Post: "In times like these, there's no really good answer. Words really don't express enough. Our approach is just that you have to show people love. You have to be there for them and be understanding, even though nobody besides the victims can really understand what they are going through. Instead of talking so much about Jesus, in this setting we have to try to be like him."
Clive Calver, former general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, now lives in Newtown and leads Walnut Hill Community Church – not far from where the shooting took place.
Writing in Charisma, he said: "Maybe, just maybe, this is the wake-up call. Maybe, just maybe, this is when the Church springs into action, being the hands and feet of Jesus and shining his light in this darkness. People here need Jesus and it's our job to introduce him to them.
"Walnut Hill Community Church is mobilising. We're lining up counsellors to minister to the grieving. We're collecting money, to be spent in a way that will bring long-term benefit to a broken community. We're linking churches together, so that —together with God — we go forward from this horrible day and come away better."