By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Praying, singing a children’s song, lighting candles and revisiting scripture lessons were among steps area congregations took Sunday to try to cope with the massacre of 20 children at a Connecticut school Friday, local clergy said.
Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults died after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. Days later, three local clergy said their sermons tried to address parishioners’ heartache and numbness and questions about “what to do.’’
“I’m still reeling myself,’’ said the Rev. Mark Ioset, minister of the Church of Christ Uniting in Richfield Springs. Parishioners include retired teachers and school administrators who expressed “deep sadness’’ about the incident and frustration that even the most modern security measures aren’t “good enough’’ to guarantee safety, he said.
The shootings took not only the lives of innocents entrusted to the care of others, Ioset said, but also the innocence of those children who survived.
“We need to be especially mindful of the loss of children,’’ he said. In tribute to the children, the congregation sang a verse from the familiar children’s song, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,’’ Ioset said, and members prayed in part as an outreach to the Newtown community.
“Prayer connects us across the miles,’’ he said. “It’s certainly a spiritual bond.’’
The church is a congregation of United Methodist and Presbyterian members. Ioset said the ability to gather as a community — people supporting each other — provides a healing environment.
The freedom of religion in the United States provides important access to houses of worship, where people may freely go and find a place to reflect and remember those lost after such incidents as the shootings in Connecticut, Ioset said.
“We need holy space to help provide that remembrance,’’ Ioset said.
The Rev. Dale Ashby of the Colchester Community United Methodist Church and East Branch/Harvard United Methodist Church said he set aside a sermon written last week to focus Sunday on addressing “the heartache of this tragedy.’’
Traumatic events such as occurred in Connecticut “shake the very foundations of our secure and controlled world view,’’ Ashby said in a copy of his sermon.
Questions about gun control, mental health care programs and school security have surfaced and will be debated in months ahead, Ashby said, but he called on parishioners to remember their Christian faith and its transformative role.
“As people of faith, we’re a people of hope,’’ Ashby said. The bottom line is because of the promise of life offered by Jesus in the face of something as terrible as the Connecticut shootings, he said, Christians refuse to give in to the evil in the world and “will confront that evil with the love of God.’’
Among other resources, Ashby said Christian faith offers to keep “hope alive even when all hope seems lost,’’ peace amidst chaos and a reason to “keep praying even when we do not know how or what to pray for.’’
Christmas is a time to remember the promise of new life, Ashby said.
The annual Christmas pageant was set for Sunday afternoon at St. Mary’s Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church in Cooperstown. In addition, the presentation included a remembrance and prayers for children who were killed Friday, a media release said, and plans were to send the 20 candles lit to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown.
The Rev. Robert E. Witt Jr., rector of Zion Episcopal Church in Morris, said the shootings Friday follow other tragedies in the United States and in human history.
“This is not the first time it’s ever happened,’’ Witt said. “We keep Holy Innocents Day.’’
The Feast of the Holy Innocents, or Innocents Day, on Dec. 28 in Christian churches in the West commemorates the massacre of children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus, according to Encyclopaedia Brittanica online.
Witt said liberal humanism and disarming neighbors aren’t paths to ending murder, violence and injustice in the world. The remedy to such evil, Witt said in his sermon, reciting scriptural words of John the Baptist, is to “love the word of God,’’ to adore Christ and cherish the resurrection.
“A change in perspective is a remedy and that is turning to God,’’ Witt said. “God will transform our hearts.’’