A service of remembrance, healing and hope was held at Central Presbyterian Church, 40 Lincoln Way West, Chambersburg, on Friday at 9:30 a.m. seven days nearly to the minute after the mass shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
With the church adorned in lush green garlands, bright red poinsettias, and a stately Christmas tree with white lights, Pastor Scott Bowerman spoke of the excitement the first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School must have been feeling with the holidays approaching.
Like all young children, they were buzzing about gifts and family get-togethers and just filling the school with joy and laughter, he said.
“Not long after evil burst into that school and 20 little children were dead,” Bowerman said.
After a brief pause, he said, “None of us wants to be here today. None of us should have be here today but we are to stand in solidarity for those who have suffered unspeakable loss - to stand in solidarity for the shattered community of Newtown, Connecticut.”
About 100 attended the indoor service each trying to make sense of last week’s unspeakable act.
“We are here as Job did to lament — to cry out to God amongst our grief, confusion and pain. We are here to grieve, and we are here to find hope,” Bowerman said.
As the father of three young daughters, David Keller, chairman of the Franklin County Commissioners, forced himself to consider the unbearable loss that the Newtown families must be enduring.
“This is a very difficult time for all of us. Our hearts ache for Newtown, Connecticut,” he said.
“What is so hard to comprehend is the killing of so many innocent children,” Keller said pausing for a few moments to collect his thoughts.
As he was preparing his speech, on Thursday night, Keller said his thoughts turned to his 2-year-old daughters Audrey and Olivia and 7-month-old Sophie.
Around midnight he checked on Olivia who has a habit of pulling her blanket over her head, he said.
“I checked on her and both girls were fine. I stroked the hair on their head and thought of the parents of the children who would never be able to feel that joy of straightening the hair on the head of their child,” Keller said.
“Today my prayer is the same as it has been the day the children of Newtown were killed. May God grant their parents peace and give them the strength to go on and may they find that strength and peace in a personal relationship with God,” he said.
Moving forward there will be continued discussion on how to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, Keller said.
“As an elected official and a representative of our great county, I want to express our county’s support of the people and elected officials of Newtown committed to mental health, school safety and gun related-violence,” Keller said. “They need our support and we need the support of them because their problems are our problems.”
Then Erin Regan read Psalm 23 followed by Bowerman remembering all the children and adults who lost their lives one week ago by reading each name aloud.
“God we know they know they are in your loving care but their absences will never be gotten over. We pray for their parents who will mourn for the rest of their lives - will feel a void for the rest of their lives. We pray that you would touch them with your love and compassion,” he said.
After the 26 names were read, the tolling of the bell sent an eerie silence through the church sanctuary broken only by the still small cry of one child in the congregation.
After the moving tribute, some dabbed tears, some hugged and some just sat in the pews reflecting.
Sandy Myers of Fayetteville, Pa., is a grandmother and the tragedy hit her hard.
“I think it’s wonderful that our church opened it’s doors to (help Newtown) realize how much we are praying for those families,” she said.
Kristen Adams of Chambersburg, came to the service for many reasons.
“I thought it’s gone too far and too long - it’s sad that it’s taken something like this to wake people up,” she said.
While she’s active in the church, she just wants people to love one another.
“I just think we have to get back to loving one another and respecting one another and helping one another,” Adams said. That’s why I was here to do what I can to bring some light and healing back in the world in whatever small way I can,” she said.