At 6:30am on Friday, 14 December, I arrived at a small diner in Woodbury, Connecticut for breakfast and prayer with a group of men from church. There was really only one thing that was different about that morning – one of the guys came in uniform. Having switched shifts with one of his fellow Newtown Police officers, Will, who is a mountain of a man, was a bit more intimidating than normal that day.
On Saturday, as I spent time with his family reflecting on the horror of the previous day – what it was like to be one of the first four officers on the terrible scene – he told me how thankful he was that he had had a hearty breakfast on that fateful Friday.
I was summoned to the Sandy Hook fire-house with three of my pastoral colleagues that Friday afternoon and I know that we will never forget the sounds and images of emotion that issued forth from that room. I hope I will never have to experience anything like it again – it was desperate grief, shock, and horror. We did what we could to offer compassion and support, but for me, there was another reason that I believe God called me to that place.
As I looked across the room shortly after arriving, I saw a young woman that I knew. She sat with her husband and the looks on their faces told the story before I ever approached them. They had lost someone that they loved. There was very little that could be said or done in that place, but when we recognized one another as childhood friends, that connection meant something. I found myself embracing a young mother whose daughter had just been murdered in an act of pure evil and the fact that we had gone to school together from the time we were kids until high school graduation simply opened something up. I think it was a gift of love, support and friendship in the middle of a situation where it wouldn’t have been expected and it really mattered, for all of us.
And here’s what God does, even when the enemy wins a battle – and the enemy of our souls did win a battle that day. First, He reminds us that He has won the war and second, He wastes no time getting on with the work of healing, especially with those who seek Him. You see, I wasn’t the only one who connected with and ministered to that dear couple in the fire-house on Friday. My friend Will, had held their little girl in his arms and told her that Jesus loved her only moments before she went to be with her Lord. And since that day, God has opened up opportunities for these families who were so traumatised on that Friday to meet together, comfort one another, and point each other to a God who cares.
Now, more than a month after Friday, 14 December, I’ve learned a few things. One of the most important, to steal a phrase from a famous sermon by Tony Campolo – Friday was a dark, dark day in and around Newtown, but Sunday was coming. For some, Sunday has come and for others it won’t come for some time, but I think it’s clear that the Church, not just Walnut Hill Community Church and certainly not the physical church buildings, but the Church, God’s people, have an opportunity to be the Church right now to our little corner of the world. As a region that is four per cent evangelical, we’ve always needed God, but perhaps now, we need Him even more. For us, located so close to the killing, the hurt is deep and the impact will be ongoing. Whether we want to be or not, God has put us in a strategic location to be a part of the healing for many years to come. May we be worthy of the call. Please pray for us.