KEENE - Trinity Lutheran Church interim pastor Robert Schipul - who has ties to Newtown, Conn. - was preparing to lead the parish school in its annual Christmas Pageant Wednesday night. But like religious leaders across the country, he is keeping a close eye on his flock and ensuring he is ministering to the special needs of his parishioners in the wake of the horrific Newtown school massacre.
Students of Trinity Christian School in Keene have discussed the tragedy with their teachers at grade-appropriate levels, he said.
"It's been hard," Schipul said. "We have a school here with 125 students. It's affected them and they are having their Christmas pageant tonight. I'm going to make some references tonight in my homily in the children's program and it will be part of my Christmas Eve message, also."
For the pastor who graduated from Newtown High School in 1959 and helped found Newtown's Lutheran parish, Christ the King Lutheran Church, the shooting has hit close to home.
Schipul and his wife, Sandra, met through their church in Newtown. Sandra is also a Newton High School graduate. While the couple no longer has family in the Newtown area, they return to the town at least once a year for high school reunions.
The Schipuls live in Cohasset, Mass., but have been living in Keene three days a week for the past two years. Schipul is a retired Lutheran pastor who agreed to fill in as the Keene church is between pastors.
chipul likens the Newton shooting and its effect on people across the country to Sept. 11 and Columbine.
"We've all been part of 9/11.We were close to that. When Columbine happened that was farther away, so we had a different relationship," Schipul said. "But if you are watching TV and you are seeing people you went to high school with being interviewed it brings it home. . You feel it much stronger than if you have no connections at all and it's been heartening watching people draw together."
While Schipul has no plans to go to Newtown, he knows the Lutheran church there has held funerals for children killed in the shootings and the New England District of the Lutheran Church has sent three pastors from Danbury, Hartford and Manchester, Conn., to minister to the people of Newtown.
It's not just the victims' families, it's the surviving teachers and students and the first responders who have said they would never talk about what they saw that day.
"They went in and they had to view the students that had been shot and they had to minister to their parents," he said.
Schipul said the country needs to address the issues surrounding gun control and services and care for the mentally ill. Those issues are already being talked about, he said, what is not being discussed is the spiritual needs of the country.
"The one that no one is talking about is family," Schipul said. "There is a question that needs to be addressed that in a society there needs to be moral teaching. The schools are saying it's hard for them to teach morals. It needs to come from the families and the church and that's going to be our challenge cause it's been a little lacking."
- - - - - - - -Meghan Pierce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.