How Faith Has Helped Newtown Heal

Newtown's faith leaders and town officials share how they've found strength.

A woman prays at a church in Sandy Hook. Credit: Gary Jeanfaivre
A woman prays at a church in Sandy Hook. Credit: Gary Jeanfaivre

As Newtown marks a difficult anniversary Saturday, some residents will turn to their faith for solace and strength with quiet memorial ceremonies, prayer and fellowship.

Many Newtown churches and other local houses of worship will open their doors Friday and Saturday to allow residents moments of quiet reflection. At 9 a.m. Saturday, Newtown Congregational Church will host a Saturday morning service with senior pastor Matt Crebbin, Congregation Adath Israel Rabbi Shaul Praver and other faith leaders from surrounding communities.

(The Town of Newtown has posted a list of other gatherings offered by Newtown faith groups and community organizations on their website.)

Crebbin serves as the coordinator for the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, a group representing numerous faith traditions in Newtown. When asked about how his personal faith has guide him in the past year, he said he takes inspiration from two very different sources: theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

"I’ll quote Leonard Cohen — ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.' Faith doesn’t mean we’re perfect people, but we recognize the brokenness of our lives. For me, it’s clear Newtown has been cracked. Some say that’s bad news, but I’m a person of faith. You see the light that gets into us — the light of care from other people. People who in the midst of their broken lives are doing incredible things with each other and on behalf of this community, all of this light shining forth in the midst of awkward circumstances."

Crebbin has been instrumental in 'doing incredible things,' taking a lead in advocacy towards what he sees as a better world. In March, Crebbin helped organize an open letter to political leaders, co-signed by many in Newtown’s faith community. In August, he invited a bus tour of pastors from the Lifelines for Healing organization to stop in Newtown for fellowship.

"For me, it’s a testimony to what my faith is about," he said. "God comes in the midst not of a perfect world but a broken world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. I don’t have to look far from my own little town to see how that is being lived out. I don’t have to look around the globe for examples. I see it right here."

For Newtown’s Jewish community, the challenges can be much the same. Praver said the past year has been the most difficult of his life, as a rabbi and as a person.

"My faith is what enabled me to overcome it all," he said. "The ability to say that it’s too heavy for me to carry and put that weight onto a higher power is a great luxury, and a great coping mechanism."

Praver, who has served as Adath Israel’s rabbi for the past 11 years, has never found it difficult to counsel those who are grieving, but says the increased demands on his time spent helping his congregation cope can be challenging.

"You try to help people as much as you can, and many people will feel very well-served," he said. "Others will feel, 'Gee, I wish I had more time with the rabbi to talk.' When you suddenly have a community that experiences such a horrible tragedy, suddenly you have a lot of people with a lot of need."

Town Figures Find Strength In Community

At a press conference last week, Newtown Patch asked a panel of town leaders how their faith has guided them and helped them heal in the past year. 

First Selectman Pat Llodra says she’ll attend St. Rose of Lima Church Sunday, sitting in the same pew where she’s sat for the past 40 years, among the same group of parishioners.

"I am a faith-based person, so being a strong Catholic helps me very much get through those critical times when I want to draw on inner strength without that center of support," she said. "I also have great faith in humans and our humanity. Each one of us has the capacity to make great deal of difference in society. That’s a parallel part of my faith."

Superintendent John Reed said he also drew inspiration from those he saw around him over the past year, a year that saw him return to Newtown at the helm of the school system as interim superintendent.

"Faith teaches you is there are not always answers to events that are understandable or make things logical," he said. "My own situation is unique. It was like rejoining a family when I came back. This is a humbling situation for anyone in position in leadership … All of us take energy faith from any place we can find comfort and in finding comfort maybe being comfort to others."

Police Chief Michael Kehoe, a Catholic, said he gained strength from his family.

"So much of my healing and recovery came from immediate and extended family, and I think that was important for me," he said. "My colleagues in law enforcement, they all made a difference because they all cared."

Even those who aren’t religious have ways to find strength, like NYA Co-Director Cody Foss.

"I’m agnostic, so I’m not so much guided by faith in religion, but more faith in people, especially in this town," he said. “I’ve always believed as a philosophy, it’s how we treat each other."

For more inspirational and religious services this weekend, see Patch’s events listing.


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