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A “new normal” in Sandy Hook

By the Rev. Mel Kawakami

IMG 0393 225x300 A “new normal” in Sandy Hook

A shrine for the Sandy Hook shooting victims. Photo courtesy Stephen Drachler.

One month ago, a young gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School just down the street from Newtown United Methodist Church and killed twenty precious children and six brave adults. It has been a long and difficult thirty days here in Sandy Hook, and we are just beginning to find our way out of the chaos and confusion.

The memorials are gone. The traffic flows as normal. The media trucks have disappeared and the oily stink of their diesel generators has lifted from Sandy Hook village. School has started again, albeit six miles away instead of up the hill. And the answer to the question, “where are you from?” has been irrevocably changed from casual chat to a lump-in-your-throat pain.

The rest of the world appears to have moved on: fiscal cliffs and New Year’s resolutions, jobs numbers, and whatever new headline grabs the attention of media. So, while from outward appearances, things are “normal,” for us in Sandy Hook, it is a “new normal.” There is the haunting reality that things will never be the same. There are twenty children who will never grow up, six adults who gave their lives for the children, and a family who will be branded forever as “the shooter’s.”

But out of that darkness, we saw a great light. Not only the message that God is with us even “through the valley of the shadow of death” but also, that there is “light in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.” Advent expectations gave way to Christmas light; God’s word and the world were hand-in-hand. The bishop and district superintendent came. The United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Communications were here. A flame from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in Israel arrived as a visible reminder of hope and faith. And then the cards and letters and gifts started; our social media was flooded and the telephones did not stop ringing. Your outpouring of love and care supported us in our moment of need, and we are deeply grateful.

Our church pulled together in ways that could only be described as Spirit-filled. Trustees and our Pre-school Board greeted visitors at the door and our Stephen Ministers listened to those who came to cry and pray. Others coordinated with the Red Cross and the media who camped out in our parking lot. When they got tired, sister churches provided help. Our members answered the phones, opened mail and cataloged gifts. Others sat in homes during funerals and others made meals and made sure we were fed. It was amazing grace to see the Body of Christ come together in a crisis.

We’re thankful for the support we’ve received; it has carried us through the darkness. Please continue to hold us in prayer.

Hope and healing are long-term goals.  Many of you continue to ask, “What can we do to help?” What can we do that will become a lasting legacy to those who lost their lives on December 14, 2012?

The bears and angels and flowers have been transformed into a compost destined for the memorial that will be built for them. So what do we do before this tragedy fades from the national psyche . . . until the next tragedy?

Consider at least two things. One is to address the larger cause of social justice, personally and institutionally, that includes access to mental health resources, diminishing gun violence and lowering the tolerance of violence in our society.

Second, our prayer in the New Year is that God will rekindle our United Methodist membership vows for prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. We ask that you find some way to honor a child or children in your congregation or community within those vows.

We also ask that you let us know what you’ve done, so that we can share with the world.  Your notes will comfort us in our mourning and be an ongoing memorial to our little ones. To post a response, please visit the Newtown United Methodist Church website.

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