Aftermath of Newtown: Connecticut deaths strike somber chord
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
"...when half spent was the night..."
The words from the Christmas carol, "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" captured the feeling of many worshippers at area churches Sunday. With Advent in progress – and Christmas just a little more than a week away – the usual joyous emotions of the season fought with sorrow that has seeped into the nation's collective psyche following the fatal shooting of 20 first graders.
In response to a request from President Barack Obama, who attended a memorial service in Newtown and met with families of those who died, flags were flown at half staff throughout the weekend and until midnight Tuesday.
"This just made me want to hug my grandchildren and not let go of them," said Charlene Redding, church secretary at Sasser Grove Baptist Church near Senoia. She said her church was in the midst of preparing for Christmas, but she felt a need to pause and think of those who had suffered such great loss in Connecticut.
Redding prepared a candle-lighting ceremony during the Sunday service at Sasser Grove. Participating along with Redding were J.H. Childs, the church's pastor; Ben Redding, assistant chairman; Beatrice Neeley, president of the Usher Board; and Mildred Searcy, usher.
The candles were lighted "in memory of the victims who were killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook School," Redding said.
"The candles burned through the whole service," Redding said. When the service ended, the candles were extinguished, but Redding asked her fellow church members to continue to pray for the families of those who were killed.
A choir program was the focus of worship Sunday at Newnan Presbyterian Church, but Dr. Harry Barrow, the church's pastor, did draw attention to the loss of innocent children.
"Before the morning prayers, I said that it is hard to understand why bad things happen to good people, and in this case to innocent children, and that it is hard to know what to do," Barrow said Monday. "One thing we can do is to stand with these families in prayer."
Kevin Royston of Kingdom Builders Faith Center said the Newtown deaths were remembered at Kingdom Builders' service on Sunday. "We had a time and silence and prayed for the families," he said.
Melanie Stanley-Soulen, the Cowetan who is pastor of Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak, was frank with the congregation that the direction of her sermon had shifted after the Friday shooting. She reflected on Jesus being born in the dark of night and said it was important to find a way "to worship in the midst of darkness."
During the Sunday service, Stanley-Soulen read the first names and ages of the children killed by Lanza.
Sunday evening, the choir at East Newnan Baptist Church ran over their songs one last time for their annual Singing Christmas Tree presentation. When the sanctuary was filled for the festive musical program, Pat Latta, pastor of the church, commented briefly on the Connecticut tragedy.
"We want to remember the tragedy on Friday," Latta said, asking everyone to pray for "all of those in Newtown who have lost someone."
The shooting has led to discussions about reforming laws related to purchasing assault weapons in federal government circles. Redding said she felt the incident called for a return to prayer in schools.
"We've got to put prayer back in these schools," she said. "I just feel like prayers went out and the guns came in. My children are grown, but I feel the school should be a safe place."
Redding also pondered the difficulty of talking about the killings with young children. "I try not to bring this up to my grandchildren, but if they bring it up, I'm willing to talk," she said.
"This tragic incident is evidence that we do not live in a perfect world," Barrow reflected. "Rather, we do live in a terribly broken world – a world that is desperately crying out for the reconciling love of Jesus Christ."