After the horrendous news pummeled Newtown, Connecticut, then the world, that gray December morning, it took only a couple hours for Walnut Hill Community Church to get to work.
With a mission to "ignite a passion for Jesus in New England," the nondenominational church of 3,500 deployed pastors to the families, some of whom are members, then set up a prayer service and filled its chapel with area counselors. Some 900 residents descended on the church the week before Christmas to remember slain 6-year-old Dylan Hockley as a pipe band played "Amazing Grace" from the parking lot. Then it set up a fund to provide long-term care to the community of 28,000 reeling from the murders of 20 children and 6 staff members.
From far beyond Connecticut's borders, chaplains arrived to support first responders, the families of victims, and residents. While some Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) leaders were wringing their hands after a Newtown pastor took part in an interfaith vigil, the denomination sent comfort dogs as a ministry of presence. "Just heard about the goldens you sent to Connecticut," wrote one Newtowner on a Lutheran website. "I'm an agnostic, but reading about [work] like this makes me doubt my own beliefs, or lack thereof." (LCMS president Matthew C. Harrison later apologized for the debacle, honoring the Newtown pastor as "a source of constant affirmation that God is indeed here in Newtown.")
God in Newtown? Local painter Bryn Gillette, a Christian who's now donating all proceeds from his artwork, agreed: "Since Friday it has felt like this 'open heaven'—the veil permanently rent—and rather than darkness flooding in, it has been God's presence and comfort that are palpable."
But wait. Doesn't the Sandy Hook shooting—and Virginia Tech before that, and Columbine before that, and all the other shootings that will inevitably happen in the years to come—demonstrate that God left the building a long time ago?
You'd think so, except for the events of Easter week, events we recall and celebrate this time of year. As longtime Christianity Today essayist Philip Yancey writes in this month's cover story, the Cross and the Resurrection sound a final, earth-shattering answer to life's worst atrocities. Yancey spoke an entire weekend at Walnut Hill after Newtown. "Where is God when it hurts?" writes Yancey. "God is now in the church, his delegated presence on earth."
Until the day God wipes every tear away, putting to death death itself, the church is so often the greatest evidence that God sacrificially loves a world awash in grief. For the churches in Newtown and beyond: Thank you for your resounding apologetic for the in-between times.
Next issue: Russell Moore puts the gospel to rap beats with Lecrae's help (no, really); Andy Crouch meets Silicon Valley Christians who are using tech to restore humanity; and Timothy Dalrymple goes inside the world of secular journalists who want to "get religion."
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