NEWTOWN, Conn. – Area Southern Baptists are preparing to provide any assistance that may be needed for families impacted by Friday morning’s (Dec. 14) mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, where at least 27 were killed, including 20 children.
Bryan Sims, pastor of Southbury Baptist Church about 15 minutes from the school, said hours after the tragedy he was contacting members to see if any of them were directly impacted. A resident from the Newtown area has been visiting Southbury for a few months, Sims said.
“We’re all very grieved, definitely praying for those who are going through that down in Newtown. It’s such a tragedy. It’s one thing when it’s adults, but when it’s little children being killed, it’s just hard to fathom,” Sims said. “I’ve emailed everybody in the church and put it on our church Facebook page that … I’m here to talk, pray if anybody needs to. I’m kind of gauging the response right now. I’m not sure if people want to come to the church or if they want to be with their families right now.”
Itamar Maciel, interim pastor of the Spanish-language-speaking All Nations Church, a Southern Baptist plant in nearby Danbury, said his church will sponsor a community prayer meeting Saturday (Dec. 15) at 7 p.m. in response to the tragedy.
He said the children of his 100 members are likely enrolled in public schools in Danbury, rather than Sandy Hook Elementary, the scene of the mass shooting.
The tragedy unfolded when one or two gunmen entered the school and began shooting. Police were still on the scene Friday afternoon (Dec. 14); the presumed shooter was dead inside the school with other victims.
Sims said Southbury could itself use prayer to know the best way to respond to the tragedy.
“We’re just here to reach out to anybody we can,” Sims said.
Mark Angerosa, interim director of mission for the Western Connecticut Baptist Association, said he will work across denominational lines to access the need for assistance, even as the association is still responding to Connecticut’s damage from October’s Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s still very early to tell,” Angerosa said. “There are some … very large churches in that area. In the evangelical community in Connecticut, we tend to work across denominational lines where it’s helpful. And we’ll certainly see if we can get on board with anything they are doing in that area already.”
Angerosa said any outreach could be an extension of disaster relief already underway in response to Sandy.
“We’ve just had some people in our association trained for disaster relief, through the Baptist Convention of New England, and we’re gearing ourselves up to assist with the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, which is still a great need in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey,” Angerosa said. “So it is very possible that we could take some with chaplaincy training and make them available to those in Newtown if they have need of such. … It’s been a very difficult few months with the hurricane and now this tragedy is just devastating.”
Lisa Siedlecki, director of communications for the mega five-campus Walnut Hill (nondenominational) Community Church, said many of the families in Newtown attend Walnut Hill’s Danbury campus. The church had just held an emergency planning meeting in response to the tragedy when Baptist Press spoke with Siedlecki.
“It hits home here. We have families there,” Siedlecki said with tears. “But our families are, I think right now, all accounted for, which is good. There are a few we haven’t heard about so we have pastors out there now. We’ve had pastors there since early this morning. We’ve got a team there now ministering to the families.”
Walnut Hill cancelled Friday’s Christmas musical to hold instead a prayer service, she said. “We are opening our doors up to the community for prayer [Friday]. We’ve also got pastors mobilized in our prayer room and chapel for people who … need to come and be prayed for. We’ve engaged the counselors we work … with, at a Christian counseling center … in Danbury, which is kind of our hub town in our region.”
“What I can tell you is … everybody is just devastated to the core,” she said. “The people who live in Newtown come to our main campus that’s been there for 30 years. Everybody’s wrecked…. We can’t begin to even predict what the long-term effect is going to be.”
Angerosa said he will continue to contact churches in the area to access how Southern Baptists can respond.
“There’s going to be an awful lot of personnel there, both Christian and secular. So the important thing I think is being able to find out what exactly the needs are,” he said. “Right now … they’re in shock and the initial grieving process is going to be huge. It’s going to be community-wide. Until we connect with some of the churches there and find out what their needs are, it’s hard to know exactly what we can do.”
“I have found oftentimes people want to go immediately when they hear that there is a problem or tragedy or disaster,” Angerosa said. “But sometimes it’s good to take a step back, try to make connections with people and get a good feel for what’s really happening before just rushing in.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)