Before school Dec. 18, the first Tuesday after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a few students and faculty members from the Oakcrest High School chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes met at the school's bus loop at 7 a.m. to pray, led by the Rev. John Mol of Trinity Alliance Church in Egg Harbor City.
At first, just a handful of nonmembers stopped to join the group. That changed quickly.
"All of a sudden, there were 10 teachers out there, then you had support staff out there, and then a few students showed up in cars and then the buses let out," said group co-adviser Charles Wyckoff, who lives in the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township. "All of a sudden, it was over 100 students."
As the about 15 students and teachers who make up Oakcrest's FCA saw despair and grief settle over their peers the weekend of the shooting, they realized they were in a position to help the school start to come to terms with the tragedy.
Oakcrest junior and FCA huddle leader Gabby Giordano introduced Mol, who then led a brief prayer. Giordano and other student members of the group also shared their thoughts at the 15-minute session. Faculty prayed along with Mol and the students, but did not lead, as per FCA rules.
The event was lightly advertised with fliers and an announcement Monday, but Giordano figured few would join the circle.
"I didn't think anybody was going to come, because students nowadays, they're like, 'Prayer? What? I don't want to pray. That's weird,'" Giordano said. "But for the kind of event it was, everyone came out and supported. It was so cool to see."
There was a distinct feeling of gloom at the school Monday, as the students grappled with the gravity of the situation, said special education science teacher Greg Guyon, who also advises the group.
On Tuesday, he noticed a distinct change in attitude.
"I heard from different teachers that students were talking all day about how they prayed for these (victims)," Guyon said. "I think it was a good way for them to express their emotions."
Wyckoff said while he hoped the prayer circle would be a success, the event as, it turned out, far surpassed his expectations. While nothing can make the pain of the tragedy go completely away, he said, the prayer circle had a positive effect at Oakcrest.
"It was just a rough day (on Monday), the atmosphere, the energy was just, it was just rough," Wyckoff said. "It seemed as though Tuesday, you felt the change. It was like a light switch, and you just felt a little bit of peace going around the school."
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