Rev. Pat Kriss only had three weeks to reacquaint herself with the First Congregational Church in Danbury, Conn., before Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Newtown and killed 26 students, teachers and administrators on Dec. 14.
In the days that followed, Kriss, who left North Adams' First Congregational Church to become pastor at Danbury's church in November, would find herself thrust into the effort to provide comfort in the aftermath of the horrific shooting.
The first challenge for Kriss -- who was a pastoral intern and temporary pastor in Danbury before her time in North Adams -- was writing a sermon for her Sunday, Dec. 16, service, just days after the shootings. But that hurdle was quickly followed by planning and co-presiding over the funeral of Lauren Rousseau, 30, the teacher killed in the first classroom that Lanza entered.
"Last Sunday [Dec. 16], I walked into my office, my phone was ringing and it was Gilles Rousseau, Lauren's father. He was in tears," Kriss said Sunday.
Kriss said he was calling to ask if Lauren's funeral could be held at the Danbury church, as the family's Monroe Congregational Church was not able to handle the number of people and the amount of attention the funeral was expected to bring.
"I can't say that I was afraid because I wasn't," Kriss said. "I just looked at that family and said somehow we will do this."
Rousseau, who had a lifelong
And so, Kriss became a part of organizing last Thursday's funeral, and would come to co-preside over the ceremony with Rev. Jennifer Gingras, senior pastor of Monroe Congregational Church.
What would transpire in the days leading up to the ceremony became a "bizarre experience" for Kriss, who had never been involved in the burial of a homicide victim and "certainly never a victim like this."
"Planning for this service was an experience going into how warped things can be," she said. "We had to have bomb-sniffing dogs come because so many threats happened at other churches, and we had to deal with the possibility of the Westboro Baptist Church."
In the end, the Westboro Baptist Church did not protest the funeral, and Kriss' church that day was filled to its 600-person capacity with "at least 1,000 and maybe even 2,000 people outside listening as best they could," despite the lack of audio equipment to broadcast the service.
The number of funerals in just a week following the shootings have led to a shortage of communications equipment and flowers in the Newtown area.
"I was determined that we would do the very best we could with the things we could control and plan for the things we couldn't," Kriss said of the preparations. "The crowd starting forming at 10 a.m. and it snaked out around the corner to where you couldn't see the end of the line."
While the funerals for all the victims of the shooting have now passed, Kriss says the healing process will be under way for a long time to come for several groups affected by the tragedy.
"The echoes of this will go on not just for days or weeks, but for years for the families and the responders and the clergy," she said, noting that she plans to have a service soon for first responders. "It's been very difficult for the clergy too. I haven't had a chance yet ... I'll have a good cry after Christmas is over. ... Now the challenge for everyone and the clergy comes to help people through what is probably going to be a very long process."