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How one church is helping heal Newtown

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Rob later called his mother, Jane, minister of visitation at Newtown United Methodist Church. "He said, 'it looks like there could be as many as 30 [dead], and most of them are children,' " the Rev. Sibley said. "Then he wept for a while. And then he'd say, 'Just keep praying, Mom. Keep praying.' "

As crying students and teachers left the school, attempting to do so in an orderly line, Barbara spotted Daniel. "I was so relieved," she says. Their family had survived. But like everyone else in Newtown, their lives would be unalterably changed by the trauma. Those old lives, rooted in a small-town sense of security as comfortable as a quilt, would now be ripped asunder and forced to make way for something new, something almost unfathomable.

The tiny Newtown village of Sandy Hook was left to cope with the unthinkable: 28 dead, including 20 six- and seven-year-olds; 6 school employees; the shooter, Adam Lanza; and his mother. Since then, a community marred by tragedy has reached out to each other and to God for strength, much as the Sibleys did in those frantic first moments behind the dumpster.

The impulse to connect drew Newtown United Methodist parishioners immediately to church, where they shared tears and hugs within hours of the event. In coming weeks, congregational life would give them far more than the comfort they sought at first. In a community upended by chaos, the church would provide sanctuary and guideposts for parishioners to wrestle with some of the most profound questions of life – about their ties to each other, about their sense of community, about their personal values, about their relationship to the divine. The church became an ark to protect them from an invasive outside world and a place to confront their anger and confusion and grief. Some have even started to forge new identities in ways that trauma experts say only a crisis can engender.

This is the story of how one church has tried to help heal a town.

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