By Christina Dillabough, Communications Designer/Editor and Stephen J. Hustedt, Director of Communications
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on December 14, Bishop Hoshibata invited the churches of The Desert Southwest Conference to pray for “the families of those whose lives were taken, for the children and staff of the school, for the many who are providing support and counseling, and for the family of the perpetrators,” he went on to say. “I pray also that we will find a way to reduce and even eliminate these types of violent incidences through our decisions as individuals and through our laws. Let us lean on our faith for strength in these difficult times as we turn to God, ‘who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.’ (2 Corinthians 1:4)”
Immediately The Desert Southwest Conference Communications department started to receive word that churches were taking action by reaching out to their communities both in person and online.
“At Christ Community UMC we read the names of the victims, lit a memorial candle and had prayer for families and the people of Newtown, Conn,” said Tom Wick of Christ Community UMC.
“I just got off the phone with Barbara from St. Michael’s in Lake Havasu. They have 28 prayer shawls they want to send to Connecticut. I gave them the address and phone number of Newtown UMC. Her voice was overwhelmed with emotion, it was truly inspirational,” Director Connectional Ministries, Rev. Dave McPherson, shared following the tragic events and request for prayers.
“We are so proud of our church youth. In the wake of the killings in Newtown and a local suicide, they put their faith into action and helped with the Primera Iglesia Adopt a Family party… It is this kind of sharing and kindness that can make a difference in our world. Thank you Dove [of the Desert UMC] youth for all your help with this project!” Marianne Stark Duffy commented on Facebook.
Several churches organized a quiet worship time for those that may be dealing with an illness, loss of a loved one, financial struggles, loneliness or some other pain. Tempe First UMC’s service called “Blue Christmas Worship Service” was open to all who are grieving, angry, or confused about the violence going on in our world. City Square UMF hosted an outdoor Community Candlelight Service and posted on Facebook, “It was cold and wet but we still had a beautiful evening remembering that, ultimately, peace and love are stronger than hate and fear.”
Facebook was flooded with prayers, resources on how to respond, and images that included prayers for those touched by the tragedy in Newtown.
First Henderson UMC posted several images for prayer on Facebook that encouraged others to comment and pray. One shared prayer image already had 1,669 shares, 3,682 “likes,” and 1,242 comments. University UMC also shared The United Methodist Church prayer photo saying, “Friends, our prayers are needed. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those touched by the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Please join us by sharing your prayers below and ‘share’ this post with others.” Grace UMC of Douglas posted, “Grace UMC prays for the families whose family members will not come home from Sandy Hook Elementary school today; for the law enforcement personnel, first responders, and hospital staff who are responding to this tragic event; and for the people of Newtown, Connecticut as they grapple with this shooting. May God’s peace be among us and our hearts true to his will as we seek reason in this tragedy.” Red Mountain UMC posted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims who were shot today in Connecticut. May God wrap them in His warm embrace.”
Although there are still countless prayers going out to those affected by the shooting, and that may be the most important thing that can be done. United Methodists are people of action and they are ready to do even more. Spirit of Hope UMC’s, Pastor John asked, “How do we as people respond?”
Bill Mefford, of the UMC Board of Church and Society wrote a letter to President Obama and posted a copy of it on his blog at http://www.jeremiahweeping.blogspot.com/2012/12/today-is-day.html . The following are excerpts from that letter.
“I write to you joining you and the rest of the country in grieving for yet another gun shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Tragically, 27 people were shot and killed, with 20 of those being children. I know we as a nation mourn this tragic loss of life and we pray for comfort and healing for the families devastated by this senseless violence.
I deeply appreciate the statement you made immediately following this tragedy when you said: ‘As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.’”
Mefford’s letter was a plea to the president and to all United Methodists to come together in action. He asks for people to write a letter to the president and invite others in your congregation to sign it, and then mail it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500.
Surely the impact of this tragic day will stop being felt, but United Methodists around The Desert Southwest Conference and the world are doing what they can to share the light of Jesus even in these darkest of circumstances. Continue to watch Desert Southwest Conference United Methodist Church communication channels for more updates.