by Sue Ann Rybak
Twenty small white T-shirts and six large blue T-shirts hanging on white PCP pipe crosses flapped in the bitter cold wind Wednesday morning on the front lawn of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Inscribed in permanent black marker on each shirt was the name and age of the 26 people – 20 children and six teachers – who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Members of Heeding God’s Call, an interfaith coalition of congregations and faith-based institutions devoted to ending gun violence and parishioners of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill gathered to remember the day that Adam Lanza, a mentally ill 20-year-old, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fired 154 rounds from a Bushmaster rifle, killing 26 people, before taking his own life.
Rev. Cynthia Jarvis, minister of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, recalled that tragic day.
“Every December for the rest of my life I will remember this [The Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre],” she said. “I was working on a sermon when I heard the news. It was heartbreaking. Advent is a time when we long for the world to be ordered, not toward death, but peace and hope and justice. This just deepened the darkness, as we hoped for light to come into the world. I think it’s important to not forget. I think for us, as Christians, it reminds us of how far this world is from the world we were created to live in, guided by peace, justice and love.”
During the “Litany of Remembrance,” Jarvis asked God to “bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence … and those who struggle to get through one more day.”
Then one by one the names and the age of the victims were read aloud: Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 7; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 7; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6; Rachel Davino, 29; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; and Victoria Soto, 27.
Jarvis concluded the service by asking God “to empower people to change this broken world and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence.” She encouraged participants to “be advocates for a new world where love and not hatred, faith and not fear, compassion and not cruelty reign.”
Bob Fles, a Chestnut Hill resident and coordinator for the Northwest chapter of Heeding God’s Call, said part of the mission of Heeding God’s Call is to educate the public and to help communities of faith raise awareness and take action to prevent gun violence.
“The Memorial to the Lost has proven to be a very effective way of fulfilling the mission of Heeding God’s Call, which is to educate the populace of the reality of gun violence, its extensiveness, its horror and its cost,” he said. “We want people to – as the sign says – ‘Stop, Read, Pray and Act.’”
Jarvis added: “It’s important for people to remember that the parents of these children and the parents of the young people in Philadelphia, who were killed, loved their children no less than you love your children.”
She said, too often, people become numb to the reality of gun violence.
Fles said that incidents like the Sandy Hook Massacre and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Shooting are particularly horrible.
“When you think about little first graders just learning how to read or to do science – to have such unspeakable violence – it kind of brings the reality of it home,” he said.
Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, encouraged people to get involved.
“Despite the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook, the dozens of mass shootings since and the everyday carnage suffered by America’s cities and towns, Congress has refused to take any action to diminish gun violence,” he said. “Heeding God’s Call to the Lost attracts attention, which gives us opportunities to educate people about how guns reach the street, so the public can demand change.”
For more information about Heeding God’s Call go to http://heedinggodscall.org/.
Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at 215-248-8804 or firstname.lastname@example.org