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Team 26 Departs After Moving Trinity Sendoff

Published: May 03, 2019 at 06:00 am

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Despite being in its seventh year, 2019 marked a year of firsts for Newtown’s Team 26, a hearty and dedicated cluster of “bicycle messengers” who advocate for commonsense gun ownership measures and relief from gun violence.

As a cold rain fell, similar to previous years as riders huddled on the steps of Edmond Town Hall, this year’s crop of riders led by Sandy Hook resident and Team 26 co-founder Monte Frank were relatively warm and certainly much dryer inside the hallowed confines of Trinity Episcopal Church on the morning of departure — April 26.

Sadly, it would be the first year and departure ceremony without co-founder and consummate cyclist David Hoyle, “the heart and soul of Team 26,” who passed away just a few weeks earlier at the age of 33.

This year’s ride would begin, and make most of its significant stops along the way, at houses of worship, verses halls of government. And the ride’s ultimate destination had shifted northwest — to Pittsburgh. More specifically, the Tree of Life Synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

On October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held there, a single gunman killed 11 people and wounded seven more in what remains the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

As Mr Frank explained, “That had a tremendous effect on me, being Jewish — my father grew up in Squirrel Hill — so the idea to ride to Pittsburgh instead of DC to unite the communities of Sandy Hook and Squirrel Hill and all the communities in between was born.

“We hope that by primarily visiting with faith-based communities on the ride, we’ll be able to drive a cultural change we hope will lead to real change on the legislative side.”

As well-wishers clustered outside Trinity Church or moved inside out of the steady rain, Team 26 came pumping up Main Street from the south and collectively glided to a halt outside. Shuffling in clunky bicycle footwear, the team members and lingering friends and support staff moved inside and to the front of the nave.

Almost immediately, a speaking program — temporarily punctuated by a soul-stirring song from local musician Francine Wheeler — commenced, with Newtown Congregational Church Pastor Matt Crebbin facilitating. One after the other, prayers and wishes for a safe ride were conveyed by local clergy and advocates of the Team 26 cause.

Among those offering words of inspiration and encouragement were Reverend Dr Jennifer Montgomery, representing Trinity Episcopal Church; Eman Beshtawii from the Al Hedaya Islamic Center; Right Reverend James E. Curry, former Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut; Deborah Davis of Mother’s United Against Violence; Reverend Carl McCluster, Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport; with a closing benediction from Reverend Carrie Combs from Trinity Episcopal Church.

Among the many inspiring moments were when Right Reverend Curry delivered a garden tool that he fashioned from the barrels of shotguns collected during a gun buyback activity last year. As he prepared to turn the hand-fashioned Cuttlefish Hoe over to Mr Frank to take along to Squirrel Hill, Rev Curry said it represented, “this idea that we have a choice — a choice to turn our instruments of death into instruments of life.”

As Ms Wheeler introduced her slightly modified rendition of “This Train Is Bound For Glory,” she remembered Jeremy Richman, a fellow parent who has also lost a child at Sandy Hook on 12/14, noting he came every year to help send Team 26 riders on their way.

“I’m going to think about Jeremy, who died on March 25. I’m going to think about him as you embark on your journey today,” Ms Wheeler said. “I know in my heart that he’s with you... I know that.”

During his stirring dispatch, Rev McCluster urged the entire congregation, including US Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who had arrived shortly after the send-off began, to raise their voices, chanting, “We shall overcome...we shall overcome.”

“We began our overcoming on that fateful day in this community, when mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, neighbors, and friends mourned our losses, buried our dead, remembered our loved ones — and then we rose,” Rev McCluster said. “We stand with Team 26 as they carry the banner of our waiting, the banner of our resolve, the banner of our commitment, unto the neighborhoods and the cities, to be passed on to the august halls of Washington, DC, and to the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh.”

Taking a few moments to represent the cyclists, Mr Frank moved to the front of the group, saying, “We have a long, cold, wet day ahead of us, but the faith and spirit you have shown today will keep us warm, and I know the wind will be at our back because of all you’ve given us.”

Calling his fellow riders, true champions, Mr Frank thanked supporters, political leaders, and the many law enforcement officers “who will be guiding us and keeping us safe throughout our journey.”

With the brief benediction ending the ceremony, the riders, supporters, and contingent of media and television crews headed back outside. With a Newtown Police vehicle leading and bringing up the rear, and with shouts of “Godspeed” and clanging cowbells, Team 26 swished off into the misty rain, down Main Street, and off toward the west and their eventual journey’s end in Pittsburgh.

Learn more about the ride at team26.org and follow Team 26 year-round on Facebook.

See video of the Team 26 arrival and departure from April 26 on The Bee's Facebook site.

See more images and a comprehensive follow-up of the Team 26 ride in next week’s print edition of The Newtown Bee and online at newtownbee.com

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