A crowd gathered Sunday evening, Dec. 23, in a semicircle around the steps of the Congregational Church of New Canaan for a prayer vigil in remembrance of those killed in Newtown on Friday, Dec. 14.
It was fully dark by 6 p.m., just two days after the shortest day of the year, and cold, about 36 degrees. The several hundred residents in attendance were bundled up in winter coats and hats and gloves as they stood quietly, almost silently, for the ceremony to begin.
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi began the ceremony, his voice unusually deep, and his tone somber.
"That day stands as a reminder that evil can be visited upon us," he said. "I say this from the bottom of my heart: Thank you New Canaan for wrapping your arms around one another."
Twenty children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown by a 20-year-old man with a semiautomatic rifle who committed suicide after his rampage.
Mallozzi read John 1 about darkness and light. When he recited, "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," the sound of breaking glow sticks, which had been distributed to participants, could be heard, going symbolically from dark to light.
The Rev. Anne Richards of St. Marks read the 23rd psalm, followed by Monsignor William J. Scheyd of St. Aloysius Catholic Church, who offered a short sermon, continuing with the theme of darkness and light.
"We stand here on a dark, cold winter night with the stars above us. We are reminded of the sorrow, we are reminded of the tears, and we are also reminded by the outpouring of love that has come out of this ... Let us never doubt that light can overcome darkness," he said.
Barbara Jeffries, the Rev. Paul Gilmore of the First Presbyterian Church and Richards slowly read each of the names of all who died followed by the tolling of a hand bell. The reading of the names included those of the shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, Nancy Lanza, who he killed at their Newtown home.
The white clapboard church behind the podium and the steps on which the various clergy stood looked all the part of New England tradition and community. A Christmas wreath with red ribbons was placed in each window, and all the lights inside had been turned on, producing a comforting effect on a chilly, somber night.
After a reading from Corinthians and another prayer, those gathered sang the poem and Christmas carol, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."
Someone walking by would have seen hundreds of people together in the night, the various voices of differing strengths and pitches, singing an iconic song in the midst of a time of tragedy.
"And man, at war with man, hears not / The love-song which they bring; / O hush the noise, ye men of strife, / and hear the angels sing," they sang in unison.
After the carol, a bagpiper, standing alone on the grass behind the crowd, played "Amazing Grace." He took his time, lingering on the notes for as long as his breath would allow, providing the crowd time to register each plaintive melody the song contains.
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