NEWTOWN, Conn. (UMNS)—The sanctuary at Newtown United Methodist Church was nearly full at 9:30 a.m.
Just outside in the narthex, the church’s three pastors and longtime office manager pulled on the white-tape covered rope that dangled from the ceiling.
The bell tolled 28 times – one for each of the persons who died in Sandy Hook and Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Tens of thousands of churches across the United States paused at 9:30 a.m. Friday to mark a week since the tragic slaying of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Mel Kawakami, was the first to pull on the long rope. At first, the bell’s toll was a quiet gong, but as Kawakami and the church’s other pastors, the Rev. Jane Sibley and the Rev. E. Sue Klein, put their backs into pulling on the rope, the heavy bell’s vibration sent a rumbling through the floor, and its pealing sound spread over the valley outside.
After the ringing finished, the pastors led the people – a mix of church members, local residents, and a few passersby – in a brief, but moving prayer service.
“The bell is a sign for a call to prayer … this is where healing begins,” said Kawakami as he addressed the group. “Today is the longest day … each day the light will be a little longer.”
More than a few people continued to pull tissues out of the boxes placed in each pew and wiped their eyes. In one pew, four persons sat, arm in arm, through the 15-minute service. Others sat together, clasping hands as the pastors prayed.
“God, your tears are mixed with our tears,” Kawakami prayed. “We gather as we remember those who lost their lives one week ago…. We could not have known the grief that would come. We do know, Lord, that you are here as promised. We know that you are here to wipe our tears.
“Be with us God. Help us, God, to remember you are here and you are with us… Help us to be a witness to the world. For even in the midst of darkness there is light,” Kawakami said as he finished.
“Even the weather speaks of our turmoil,” Sibley said, in offering a prayer as a heavy, wind-blown downpour rattled off the windows. “You have given us the job of love.”
Earlier Kawakami explained why Newtown United Methodist Church’s bell tolled 28 times, instead of the 26 requested by officials. In addition to the 26 students and teachers, the shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, Nancy died.
“I’m grateful I don’t have to judge. I leave that to the God I believe in … a God of mercy,” Kawakami said. He explained the 28 people who died were children of God. In The United Methodist Church, he added, “we believe in a God of grace. … Our own Lord says we are not to judge.”
*Drachler is a public relations consultant for United Methodist Communications and has been assisting Newtown (Conn.) United Methodist Church.