Local Prayer Vigil
Held Across U.S.
BY O.J. EARLY
Bowed heads, tearful eyes, and a somber reverence marked Friday morning's Community Prayer Vigil in front of the Greene County Courthouse.
Under cold, blustery conditions, an estimated 75 people gathered at 9:15 a.m. to honor the memory of the 20 elementary students and six adults killed one week earlier in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, one of the deadliest shooting incidents in U.S. history.
The event, hosted by the Greeneville-Greene County Ministerial Association, was part of a nationwide effort to mourn the loss of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning, Dec. 14.
At 9:30 a.m., a half-block away, the bell of First Presbyterian Church began tolling 26 times: one time in memory of each of the victims of the school slaying.
Several local elected leaders and other public officials spoke briefly to the crowd. All expressed deep compassion for the families affected by the Newtown tragedy and underscored the importance of praying for them.
"Last Friday was a stark reminder that there is still evil in the world," said state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville. "Our prayers go out to the families."
Both Greeneville Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud and Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk addressed those present.
They encouraged prayer from the community, as well as noting that there had already been much prayer for those in Newtown by local students and teachers.
"What I want to say to you is that God and prayer are not out of our schools," Stroud said. "You can't legislate God in or out of schools."
Kirk added, "I would ask that you would get yourselves to do things that would honor the little children's memories."
Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles encouraged the crowd with words emphasizing God's eternal love.
"All of Greene County's thoughts and prayers are with the families," Broyles said. "God will always be with us."
Others speaking briefly at the local prayer vigil were Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels and General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr.
The Rev. Jan Leffers, chaplain at Takoma Regional Hospital, welcomed those who attended.
After the public officials had spoken, a prayer was read by the Rev. Martha Moore Beamer, Ministerial Association president, in which the crowd participated.
Following the group prayer, a time of silent prayer was observed before the tolling of the bell began at 9:30.
As the sound of the bell rang throughout the downtown area, tears streamed down the faces of many of those present. Others stood with heads bowed.
Similar prayer vigils have taken place across the nation since the shooting, and at 9:30 a.m. Friday, church bells rang in many other communities across the nation, including Newtown itself.
Governors across America said their states would participate in Friday's time of mourning. (Please see related Associated Press story, this page.)