— The tragic shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School can lead to a new and better America the Rev. James Forbes told the crowd at an interfaith service in Newtown Sunday night.
"They did not die in vain," Forbes, his voice rising to a shout, said at the service at Newtown Congregational Church. "They are the founders of the new America. Newtown is where we begin the new America."
About 250 people attended the service that included music, ministering and prayer in memory of those killed Dec. 14 by Adam Lanza.
In his sermon, Forbes, senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York City, compared the tragedy to the civil rights movement. The movement may not have eradicated all prejudice, but it made real progress, he said. He called on listeners to strive for change in the wake of the shootings.
"If God could work it out there," Forbes said, "why is not possible that what happened in Newtown lead to a new America? Already we are discussing as a community gun violence, some this way, some that way, but the discussion is going on."
Forbes spoke of the Second Commandant in response to those who evoke the Second Amendment in the debate over gun control.
"Thou shall not make false idols, and sometimes instruments of war become idols," Forbes said to applause from the congregation.
Forbes and other speakers said it was appropriate to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated Monday, in connection with the Newtown shootings. King also experienced the loss of children to violence when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where King would frequently speak, was bombed in 1963 and four young girls were killed.
"Dr. King talked about race relations, yes, but he also talked about nonviolence," Forbes said.
Forbes, who worked extensively with families after 9/11, expressed compassion for the families of the victims. He urged them to have faith and listen to their bodies as they struggled to come to terms with their loss.
"The body knows how to take each one of us through grief," he said "It tells us when to cry without consulting us. It tells us when to rest. It tells when she should get up."
Tragedy reinforces our sense of interconnectedness and community, Forbes said. He called on all to embrace the community and help the victims' families carry the burden of losing their loved ones.
"We belong to each other," he said. "We have family names, but the community is usually stronger in times of trouble. The community says, if we listen, if we hang in there, we can do this. We will not forget, but eventually with less and less pain."
In keeping with the Martin Luther King Day theme, the service closed with the singing of "We Shall Overcome."