Newsline Special: Have Faith That Things Can Be Different

Quote of the week

“Let’s take better care to appreciate all of the little miracles in our own everyday lives, to remember our faith in things unseen. Let’s share the stories of our miracles, big and small, so that others might begin to recognize their own miracles, and have faith that things can be different.”

— From the December Deacon Update, quoting Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Deacon Update is a regular e-mail publication sent out by the Church of the Brethren Deacon Ministry.



1) Brethren leaders send letter of support to the people of Newtown.
2) National Council of Churches press conference will call for meaningful action on guns.
3) NCC asks churches to ring bells tomorrow for Newtown victims, support January action day on gun violence.
4) NCC provides resources for churches to address gun violence and its aftermath.
5) Prayer, new carol text are written by Brethren pastors after the tragedy.

1) Brethren leaders send letter of support to the people of Newtown.

In a call made from Jerusalem Dec. 14, Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley Noffsinger expressed his deep sorrow upon hearing the news of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The news reached Noffsinger while he and a group of Brethren leaders were in Israel, taking part in a delegation to the Middle East along with a group from the American Baptist Churches USA. The group has since returned to the United States (look for a report on the delegation to appear in the Dec. 27 issue of Newsline).

Along with the general secretary and his wife Debbie Noffsinger, the Brethren delegation included associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury and her husband Mark Flory-Steury; and three members of the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board: Keith Goering, Andy Hamilton, and Pam Reist.

In his phone call, Noffsinger commented on how news of the school shooting had a profound effect on all in the delegation. The group heard about the shooting after spending an evening at the Wailing Wall praying for peace for all people. The next morning they had prayer together with the American Baptist group. “From the Holy City we send prayers,” Noffsinger said.

The Brethren delegation to Israel and Palestine sent the following letter of support and encouragement to the people of Newtown, Conn., addressed to the First Selectman of the town and the Superintendent of Newtown Public School District:

To the people and leaders of Newtown,

Our condolences on the loss of your children, loved ones, friends, and co-workers.

We heard of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School while in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Returning from an evening of praying for peace for all people at the Wailing Wall, the news of the shooting and the deaths of so many of Newtown’s children has had a profound effect on us.

As a delegation of Church of the Brethren leaders to Israel and Palestine, during this Advent season we are visiting a place where people have seen centuries of violence. Yet even here, the news of your suffering has been shared widely and it is clear that the whole world is paying attention and is walking alongside you in your loss and grief.

Out of our long church history of working and praying for peace, we know that all people are created in God’s image and that God loves and cares for all human lives. We add our prayers to those of so many others who hold Newtown in our hearts this day. We pray especially for the parents who have lost children, the siblings who have lost brothers and sisters, and the families of the school staff who were killed.

For the leaders of Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary School, we pray for strength, courage, and wisdom in this difficult time.

In the peace of Christ,

Stanley J. Noffsinger, General Secretary, and Debbie Noffsinger
Mary Jo Flory-Steury, Associate General Secretary, and Mark Flory-Steury
Keith Goering, Mission and Ministry Board
Andy Hamilton, Mission and Ministry Board
Pam Reist, Mission and Ministry Board

2) National Council of Churches press conference calls for meaningful action on guns.

Photo by courtesy of National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches (NCC) has been active since the school shooting in Newtown, by making available resources to congregations (see story below) and encouraging religious leaders to address the issue of gun violence.

The ecumenical organization, of which the Church of the Brethren is a member, is holding a press conference in Washington, D.C., where religious leaders will speak out on gun violence.

In the hours following the shooting last week, NCC president Kathryn Lohre said, “As a parent, I cannot comprehend the grief other mothers and fathers are feeling tonight. I share President Obama’s instincts to hug my own child especially close tonight. And my heart breaks to know so many parents in Connecticut are no longer able to do that.

“Tragedies like the shootings in Newton are impossible for theologians and clergy to explain,” Lohre said. “But we seek comfort in our faith that our God is a God of love, and God’s heart is breaking tonight, too.”

The press conference takes place Friday, Dec. 21, at 9 a.m. (eastern) in the nation’s capital. The group of religious leaders are expected “to call on Congress and the President to take meaningful action to address the national epidemic of gun violence,” said an NCC release.

“We must do more than lament the loss of life and comfort those who are engulfed in grief; we must come together as people of faith in a collective call to action to end this crisis gripping our country,” said an announcement of the event from Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“The time to end senseless gun violence is now, and as religious leaders of national prominence, the responsibility to provide moral leadership to achieve that cause is ours.”

The speakers who are expected to take part in the press conference are NCC president Kathryn Lohre; Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America; Gabriel Salguero, senior pastor of Lamb’s Church; David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Michael Livingston, a past president of the NCC and most recently director of the NCC’s poverty initiative, who directs the Washington Office of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Read the 2010 NCC resolution on “Ending Gun Violence” and a related resolution made by the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board in support of the NCC action, at .

3) NCC asks churches to ring bells for Newtown victims, support January action day on gun violence.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) is inviting the nearly 100,000 churches related to its member communions to ring church bells the morning of Friday, Dec. 21, to mark one week since 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

The houses of worship that take part in the “Church Bell Ringing to Honor Newtown” observe a minute of silence and sound their bells 26 times in memory of those who died in the school. Authorities believe the alleged shooter also killed his mother before going to the school with an automatic rifle.

“I hope that you will join me not only in continued prayer but also in raising a faithful witness against this and other forms of violence,” said Peg Birk, NCC transitional general secretary, in an e-mail announcing other upcoming actions to which NCC members churches are invited. “No nation or community should witness the suffering of such innocents.

“We will be convening staff from our member communions shortly after the holidays to discern additional ways that we, as the body of the National Council of Churches, can work together to prevent gun violence and other long term systemic issues of justice and peace,” Birk added.

A “Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath” has been announced for Jan. 6. Congregations around the country are being asked to offer sermons, prayers, or education forums against gun violence. To register a congregation and receive a free, downloadable toolkit for the observance go to .

A “Call-in Day Against Gun Violence” will be held in early January. The NCC is inviting the interfaith community in the US also to join together in this call-in day to legislators, urging them to address gun violence. Sign up to receive information about this upcoming advocacy action at .

4) NCC provides resources for churches to address gun violence and its aftermath.

“I have been inspired by the great outpouring of support and compassion I have seen in the faith community’s response to the devastating shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said Peg Birk, National Council of Churches transitional general secretary, in an NCC release this week. “From prayer vigils to pastoral care resources, and from moving sermons to the many, many prayers for the families and community in Newtown–the outpouring of God’s love to this community through God’s people has been hope fulfilled.”

The National Council of Churches is making a number of the response it has received to the Newtown tragedy available online, along with worship and action resources for churches to address gun violence and help parishioners deal with the aftermath of a tragedy that has affected the entire nation.

A sampling of the responses and prayers from member communions of the NCC is available at .

Upcoming actions and resources on gun violence from NCC member churches is at .

Another new resource made available through a joint effort of the NCC and the Presbyterian Church (USA) is the documentary film “Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence.” Produced by David Barnhart of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for the NCC, which distributes television programming through the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, the film was released to NBC Television in mid-November for airing by network affiliate stations.

“Drawing upon conversations with lawmakers, emergency room chaplains and surgeons, survivors and victims’ families, former ATF officials, police officers, community leaders and others, ‘Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence’ shares the story of how gun violence impacts individuals and communities and examines the ‘ripple effect’ that one shooting has on a survivor, a family, a community, and a society,” said the release. The film “also addresses the critical issue of gun violence prevention (such as keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill) by moving the conversation away from the polarizing extremes that have long dominated the debate and lifting up the voice and experiences of those who seek common ground and a new way forward.”

The NCC encourages church members to contact their local NBC affiliate station and ask that the documentary be aired in their area.

5) Prayer, new carol text are written by Brethren pastors after the tragedy.

Following are worship resources by two Church of the Brethren pastors, a prayer sparked by the tragedy at Newtown and a new version of the Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”

A Prayer for Comfort and Peace

(Commemorating the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012)

O God, as we gather for worship today, we realize that we are very close to the celebration of Your birth on Christmas Day.

However, many of us find it difficult today to think about any kind of celebration. Our hearts, minds, and souls are filled with the sickening news of the shootings that took place on a December morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A young man aimed a gun at innocent children, teachers, and even his own mother. Before he took his own life, 20 first graders, 6 teachers, and his mother died from the weapon he held in his hands. The thought that their lives could end so quickly and violently makes us sad, angry, numb, and sick.

Most of us do not personally know any of the victims of this senseless act. However, every person in this room knows someone who is 6 or 7 years old. Every one of us knows parents and relatives of first grade children. We also know many teachers who have shaped our lives and the lives of those who are dear to us. That is why a tragedy like this rips at the very fiber of our being.

We lost track of how many times we heard others ask, “WHY?” We admit that we are asking the same question today. Deep in our hearts we realize that no answer could possibly help us make sense of what took place. As we ask this question, remind us that it can become our prayer at a time when we are not even sure how to pray. It helps us unite our hands and hearts and voices with people around the world who gather for prayer vigils and times of remembrance. You invite us to turn to You with all our tears and all our questions. Help us to recognize Your presence in the midst of all this brokenness.

As we search our hearts for other ways to pray, we think about the family members and friends of those who died. Comfort them, O God, and grant them wisdom and courage for the facing of the hours ahead. We think of the teachers who put the safety of their students before their own safety and security. Thank You for their unhesitating courage and sacrifice. We think of the law enforcement officers, paramedics, and other first responders who witnessed unspeakable sights as they did their work. Bless them with the peace that You alone can give. We also pray for those who escaped or survived the bullets that were fired that morning. Grant them the precious gift of healed memories, O God.

We wonder how we may honor the memory of these innocent children and adults. You remind us that one way we can do this is to cherish the relationships we share with our own children and family members. May we never overlook an opportunity to love them with our words and our deeds.

Show us how we can express gratitude to those who are prepared to teach us, protect us, rescue us, and practice the healing arts for our sake. Their sacrifice and dedication is a genuine blessing.

Finally, Prince of Peace, deliver us from weapons of our own making and choosing. Guide our thoughts, words, actions, and intentions. Bless each of us with courage to replace senseless acts of violence with sensitive deeds of care and compassion. May this be so from this time forth and forever more. Amen.

— Bernie Fuska is pastor of Timberville (Va.) Church of the Brethren. His prayer was shared by Shenandoah District. “Bernie used this in his worship yesterday as a candle of remembrance was lighted in place of the Advent wreath candles. We are free to use and adapt it,” the district said in its e-mail message. “Permission is granted to adapt and use these prayer thoughts.”
Whose Children These?

(A new hymn text by Frank Ramirez for the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” originally written by William C. Dix, 1865, set to the tune Greensleeves, a traditional English melody.)

Whose children these, who laid to rest,
Tear every heart in weeping?
Whose children these, God, tell us please?
Uphold them in your keeping.
Each reaching above the fray
To heaven’s border where angels pray,
Love, moving past hate and fear,
To save and cherish our children.

The wind blows cold. These ills behold,
As rage and evil come feeding.
We see, we hear, Oh God, we fear
That none can staunch the bleeding.

You are greater than evil’s reign.
Stand in our midst, we pray, remain.
Comfort hearts, we’ll play our parts,
So nothing love impeding.

Each child’s name with us remain,
These sorrows sharing with those who weep
Whose loss is great, against this hate
Your love abiding be done.

Reign! Rein in insanity,
Install in all your divinity!
So then may we, one humanity,
See your will as in heaven be won.

— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. “Here is a hymn text I wrote around 2 a.m. this morning for use in our worship service,” Ramirez wrote when he submitted the hymn as a resource for Newsline readers. “For my message I added the text from Matthew on the Slaughter of the Innocents…. We sang it at the end of worship to (the tune) Greensleeves. Here it is, in case others want to sing it.”

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Philip E. Jenks, Ronald E. Keener, Nancy Miner, Jerry L. Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Look for the next regularly scheduled issue on Dec. 27, 2012. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at Newsline appears every other week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To unsubscribe or change your e-mail preferences go to

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