Weston residents, officials, and clergy participated in a two-town interfaith vigil on Sunday, Dec. 16, for the victims of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Dec. 14.
“It was a very moving experience,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein. “It was incredible.”
Ms. Weinstein said she felt the town “needed a vigil” to show its support for the families of victims and the community of neighboring Newtown. “I think we’re all very cognizant of the fact that this could have happened here,” she said.
In addition, the vigil was a good way for people to grieve and begin to heal, Ms. Weinstein said.
The vigil was organized by Ms. Weinstein and Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff with the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston.
“There’s so much overlap between the religious communities in both towns, it made sense to combine our efforts,” Ms. Weinstein said. “I’m so appreciative that Westport allowed us to come together as one community.”
The service, held at 4 on Sunday afternoon, was originally scheduled to be held outside on Veterans Green, but was moved indoors to Westport Town Hall across the street because of rain.
It was standing room only as hundreds of people packed the auditorium there, filling every seat, the stage, and the back and side aisles.
In addition, hundreds who could not be inside held vigil on the green outside despite the weather. Ms. Weinstein said when she came out of the town hall and saw the mass of people with candles standing in the rain, it was very moving. “Talk about touching,” she said.
Many of the clergy who were there then did an impromptu shortened second service outside for those who weren’t able to be indoors, Ms. Weinstein said.
The program included moments of silence, poetry readings, prayers, and song, including a rousing “God Bless America” led by Weston’s Rev. Bernard Wilson of Norfield Congregational Church.
Norfield’s Rev. Kelly Rogers, associate minister, also participated.
Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue is chairman of the Interfaith Clergy Association, and he led the gathering in prayer.
The names and ages of all the victims of the school shooting were read, and battery-operated luminaries were lit.
Other clergy who participated included the Rev. Bennett A. Brockman Ph.D., interim rector, Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton, senior pastor, Saugatuck Congregational Church; the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Religious Institute; the Rev. Frank Hall, senior minister, the Unitarian Church in Westport; the Rev. Edward C. Horne, senior pastor, United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston; Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf, Temple Israel; Rabbi Robert Orkand, Temple Israel; the Rev. Peter Powell, priest associate, Christ & Holy Trinity; the Rev. Jeffrey Rider, senior minister, Greens Farms Church; the Rev. Thomas T. Thorne, Church of the Assumption; and Monsignor Andrew G. Varga, pastor, St. Luke Church.
“It was a beautiful service, very well done,” said Lois Guberman of Weston. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the reality of what happened, but it was very comforting to be there with so many other people.”
Neil Horner of Weston also attended the vigil. He said while it was a comforting and necessary step, he hopes it doesn’t stop there.
“What I’m hoping — actually praying — that we won’t have is what we quite often have after tragedies: a very emotional start, and then no real action. … I’d like to see an upsurge in concrete action to address the underlying problem,” Mr. Horner said.
He and Ms. Guberman acknowledged that people often want to “donate” after a crisis as a way to help. What they would like to see is those donations being used for what Mr. Horner called “real actions,” such as training volunteers in schools, counseling services for kids and community members affected, and one-on-one counseling for every staff member at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That would be far more useful, he said, than having donations go to a “general fund.”
Ms. Guberman, who is co-chairman of the Weston Domestic Violence Task Force, added she would like to see an increase in focus on the importance of mental health services.
“As a community, we can’t do much about gun control other than lobby for it, but we can get more money allocated for mental health services,” she said.
Mr. Horner said that, above all, his wish is to see the community spirit he felt at the vigil Sunday night translated into action and activities that might help stop these kinds of tragedies from ever happening again.