RALEIGH — Mourners filled the chapel at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Sunday night to grieve for the victims of the Connecticut school shooting rampage and to pray for an end to gun violence that has left too many families suffering.
One by one, participants came forward to light candles and call out the names and ages of the 28 people who died in the massacre, including the killer and his mother.
By the end, a table in the center of the room glowed with flickering lights. Mourners stood in silence, many holding hands or sharing tearful embraces.
“God, our hearts are breaking,” said the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial, leading a circle of 60 people in prayer. “We feel confused, angry and heartbroken that such violence could bring about so much pain and hurt. ... Some of us even want to ask why you let this happen. But we know you didn’t.”
It was a scene that played out Sunday in houses of worship across the country as congregations came together for the first time since a shooting spree Friday in Newtown, Conn.
For years, Pullen and Martin Street Baptist churches have partnered to hold vigils against violence any time someone is slain in Raleigh.
At each gathering, pastors read the names of the victims and perpetrators and pray for healing for their families.
Both churches are known for their traditions of social activism. The evidence was on display Sunday as the Rev. Earl C. Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist, called on followers to do more than grieve.
“As much as we need prayer, we also need gun legislation,” Johnson said. “We need for our politicians to come together and try to find ways to amend gun laws.
“At some point, we have to say enough is enough.”
Petty described a study by the Children’s Defense Fund that found an average of 16 youth died from gun violence each school day in 2008 and 2009.
When Petty opened the floor for audience members to speak, one woman prayed for “people like Mr. Lanza” who are dealing with mental illness.
“Help us to be able to reach out to know who those lonely people are, and to let them know we do value them,” the woman said.
On Sunday, authorities officially identified the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, described by those who knew him as troubled and socially withdrawn.
Calling out the names of the dead is an important way to remember, said Martha Ellington, a Pullen member who lit a candle for 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene, one of the victims. “That child’s name will be with me for a long, long time,” Ellington said. “The name of a 6-year-old child impacts the psyche when that child is now gone.”
The grieving families can draw strength from the prayers of the faithful, Johnson told listeners. “They are not alone in this moment of despair.”