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Interfaith Council Anniversary Gathering Will Focus On 11 Years Of Companionship



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Newtown Interfaith Council (NIC) will host an interfaith gathering on the eleventh anniversary of 12/14.

Readers are invited to join council members on Thursday, December 14, at 7 pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 36 Main Street.

This year’s event will be similar to those of previous years, with gentle gathering music, welcome remarks, and readings of sacred text and poetry.

The names of those killed on 12/14 will be read, and a bell will ring with each name.

There will also be a candle lighting element, prayers for the community, a blessing, and closing music.

Trinity will again offer a livestream of the gathering, available at trinitynewtownct.org.

During a recent NIC meeting, members discussed how to present the service. They also discussed with the council’s newest member, Newtown United Methodist Church Pastor Stephen Volpe, how the gathering has traditionally been presented.

“In the past, on the anniversary day, the interfaith group has taken the lead in having a gathering that was not officially by the Town,” said Newtown Congregational Church Pastor Matt Crebbin. Steve Bamberg, representing Congregation Adath Israel; Reverend Bill Donaldson, founder and pastor of Love Has A Home; and Reverend Leo McIlrath, chaplain of The Lutheran Home of Southbury, were also in attendance November 28.

McIlrath called the event “very comfortable” even if many do not attend in person.

“We have had conversations, within our community and with others outside,” Crebbin continued, “who say, ‘You cannot ignore the day.’”

“It’s a precarious balance,” he added. “We have a gathering point, but we don’t proclaim that everyone is in the same place, or does the same thing” to remember 12/14, those who died, and those who were in any way affected by the day’s events.

“We also do not claim to represent the families,” he added. “We are offering this as a joint ministry to those who want to be there.”

Crebbin told Volpe that he and others have heard from some of the families of those who died that Friday morning nearly 11 years ago, who have said while they will never attend the anniversary gatherings, it comforts them to know that their loved ones are not forgotten.

The December 14 gathering will open with one council member offering welcoming remarks, Crebbin said.

“We’ll remind our guests that we welcome them from our faiths, and we are offering what we can,” he said.

As in past years, the lighting of candles will be included.

“People can light a candle for whatever they want,” McIlrath said. “Lighting a candle doesn’t have to be a religious thing.”

In discussing whether there would be a defined theme, the conversation ranged from hope and support to community solidarity, community support, and finally companionship and a journey.

“I like the idea of companionship, of walking alongside each other,” Donaldson said.

Nodding, Crebbin said, “Maybe we don’t problem solve everything, but we’re willing to walk alongside each other.”

Volpe raised his first question, asking how the other leaders of faith felt the town is doing.

“Where is the community as a whole?,” he asked. “Are we still wounded? Are we still healing?”

Volpe is qualified to ask about communities working through tragedy in the first person. The former pastor of Cheshire United Methodist Church, he was the church leader at the time of the 2007 home invasion and subsequent murders of three members of the Petit family and the brutal beating of husband and father Bill Petit. Volpe was the pastor to that family and the community.

He is, he told his new congregation ahead of his arrival just a few months ago, “much aware of this community’s tragic loss and senselessness.”

During the November NIC meeting, Donaldson told Volpe that every time “there’s another tragedy, it seems like there’s a setback. The community still gets impacted by other instances.”

As the men continued their discussion, the words companionship and journey kept repeating. Crebbin shared some of his own journey since 12/14 before saying he feels “the community is orienteering toward the idea of companionship, of journeying forward.

“The idea of companionship is an acknowledgement of those who have been with us, and who we’ve been companions to,” he said.

Bamberg mentioned local residents “who travel to other communities when tragedy happens there. They immediately offer their companionship,” he said.

Volpe volunteered to be the one to lead a prayer for companionship, “to help center our guests toward the evening’s theme,” he said.


Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

Members of Newtown Interfaith Council presented an Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering at Trinity Episcopal Church in November. Council members will return to the Main Street church for this year’s interfaith gathering on the eleventh anniversary of 12/14. —Bee Photo, Glass
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