- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) - For the first time in three years, the Dec. 14 anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre falls on a school day.

So for the first time in three years, students and teachers will be in class the day Newtown residents remember the 20 first-graders and six educators who were slain in Connecticut’s most heinous crime.

The decision to dedicate the third anniversary to teaching and learning is part of a larger effort by Newtown’s network of church and community leaders to mark the tragedy that changed the town forever.

With a series of prayer gatherings, therapeutic programs and drop-in opportunities for reflection scheduled around the school day, the idea is to make the anniversary more about strengthening solidarity than about seeking solutions to the nation’s violence epidemic.

“We recognize this continues to be a challenge for many people, so we don’t come together saying we have all the answers,” says the Rev. Matthew Crebbin, the pastor at Newtown Congregational Church and the coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association.

Another difference in this year’s anniversary is that the town expects fewer out-of-town dignitaries and less national media coverage, leaders said. As a result, the town can expect fewer speeches and less spectacle.

“The world’s attention is being drawn to other things,” said First Selectman Pat Llodra. “For us, it is a blessing to be able to be more quiet and peaceful and conduct our remembrance in ways that are more appropriate to who we are.”

The one high-profile event of the anniversary- the annual interfaith prayer gathering planned for 7 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church -will have a decidedly solemn atmosphere.

The reason: anniversaries of traumatic events often elicit difficult emotions for people who are still struggling with loss.

“The important thing for us is recognizing that something significant has happened and it continues to be significant to us, even though we are not all in the same place,” Crebbin said.

“We have some people who are saying ‘It’s been three years already,’ and others who are still feeling very raw,” he said. “We need to give people permission to be where they are in that journey.”

The community outreach liaison for the six-member Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team agrees.

“People know we have care coordinators available, and they can drop in at any time if they need guidance to services or resources,” Melissa Glaser said.

The decision to have class on Dec. 14 was announced to parents last month in a letter from schools Superintendent Joseph Erardi.

In the letter, Erardi outlines his expectation that teachers will work hard to instruct and students will work hard to learn, and that he will discourage requests for media coverage.

“I strongly believe that Newtown needs only Newtown on this day,” he wrote.

During the regular moment of silence that begins each school day, principals in the higher grades will share a personal message with students and staff, Erardi’s letter stated.

He noted that younger students might not understand the significance of Dec. 14, 2012, when a socially isolated 20-year-old named Adam Lanza shot his way into the locked Sandy Hook Elementary School, firing 154 bullets in 264 seconds before turning a handgun on himself.

Outside of school hours on Dec. 14, and over the weekend before the anniversary, the doors of churches and community groups will be open for gatherings and moments of solitude, some of which were being finalized this weekend.

Among the faith services are an interfaith Shabbat service and memorial at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown and the annual Interfaith Gathering for Prayer and Comfort at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at Trinity Episcopal Church. The 45-minute interfaith service at Trinity Church will include readings from sacred texts, moments of silence, and prayer.

“Prayer always calls us to respond to life in the world,” said Crebbin, whose own church will be open on the anniversary for a 9 a.m. prayer gathering.

“That is why prayer is always needed,” he said. “In this case, prayer calls us to engage the cause of violence in our society and how we can build a more peaceful society.”


Information from: The News-Times, https://www.newstimes.com

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