Below is a lesson plan I’ve designed for the Parish of the Epiphany’s middle school and high school classes for tomorrow morning incase the youth need a safe space to process the news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut. Please use it if it is helpful to you. Please excuse any grammatical errors you might find.
Alternative Lesson for Middle School and High School Sunday School Class
Newton Elementary Shooting
1) Open in prayer either extemporaneously or you can use the following:
Holy God, we pray for your guidance and presence. Surround the people of Newtown, Connecticut, as they respond to this horrible tragedy. Receive into your heavenly kingdom the children and adults who died this morning, give them unending joy. Bless and uphold their families and loved ones who grieve. And, finally, in your mercy give us wisdom and insight from this senseless violence, that we will do everything in our power to protect and nurture our children, in whom you make yourself especially known. We ask this in the friendship of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and in the embrace of your Holy Spirit, who breathes upon us a peace which passes understanding. Amen.
2) Ask the youth what they know about the shooting. I would control the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. Some kids might know more about it than others. Our job here is to gage what they know and correct misinformation: we are not supplying additional news details.
We need to respect that some parents may want to share more information with their children than others. Especially with the 5th/6th grade students this will be the case. If the youth want more information direct them to their parents: we are not there to give the information we are there to help them see how their faith can inform their coping.
3) I would next ask what they think God feels/thinks about the shooting. This is hard because it will get into the question of “why God allows bad things to happen” but helping them to know that God remains loving and did not cause this will be vital.
Relating it to the nativity: ie this is why God came to breathe new life into the broken places of the world… will be good. (This may likely be where your teens want to stop. They may want to just keep talking and that is okay, but engaging them in a creative activity for expression would also be a very healthy thing especially for those kids who are not verbal processors.)
I know it is difficult even for us as adults to see where God is in all of this. I find the words of The Rev. Kathleen Adams Shepherd, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, CT helpful here. At the candlelight vigil yesterday evening said: “God was in the acts of love and bravery today.” God was in the principal who ran toward the gunman to shield the children. God was in the first responders who used their gifts from God to treat the injured. God is in the people around the world who cry in solidarity with the pain of those affected. God is present in the love. God is present in the tears. This is what Jesus went to the cross to save us from.
In an interview granted by Robbie Parker, father of one of the victims, Mr. Parker said, “‘I’d like to offer our deepest condolences to all the families who were directly affected. It’s a horrific tragedy, and our hearts go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter, and I want you to know that our love and support go out to you as well.” Mr. Parker went on to say that he is not angry. Hurt and devastated, yes, but he knows the shooter had the same free will granted by God that he himself enjoys. He said it is tragic that the shooter used his freewill for such a horrific act, but that he plans to use his free will to love.
The shooter was a human being created in God’s image. We would all do well to take a page from Mr. Parker’s book to remember that Adam (the accused shooter) was a son, brother, friend, and broken human being like us all. What he did was horrible. But those who loved him are grieving as well. Help the youth to know that demonizing the troubled young man who committed this crime may seem easier but it does not solve the hurt and confusion we feel. We are called to pray for him and his family as well.
Love conquers death. We are an Easter people and we believe that God conquered the clutches of death in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
4) As an activity, invite the youth to make cards or write letters/prayers for the children and teens at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, CT. Sending cards and letters is a hands-on way we can engage our faith and help our brothers and sisters in Christ as they cope with this tragedy.