Newtown Faith Leaders Unite in Tragedy
Rev. Matthew Crebbin talks with fellow Newtown clergy Rev. Mel Kawakami and Rabbi Shaul Praver about their experiences as faith leaders during and after the Sandy Hook School Shooting. They talk about the steps they’ve taken toward healing, and how the trauma and its impact on their lives, faith, and work continues on.
Newtown clergy Pastor Mel Kawakami and Rabbi Shaul Praver
Phases of Disaster Response – Rev. Marvel Hitson, Director of Congregational Health & Trauma Chaplain, Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth
Self-awareness and self-care; Phases of human-caused disaster response; Impact on families of faith leaders; Congregational support of faith leaders; Re-traumatization; Moving forward and looking ahead; New wisdom
Pastor Melvyn Kawakami
In 2013, Newsweek named Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America. He had become a prominent leader among American Jewish 23 years. However, that all changed the day he was called upon to be a first responder at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.
As a result of the tragedy, Rabbi Praver became guided by a mission to reduce societal violence and accepted a position, that same year, as chaplain for those incarcerated in facilities run by the Connecticut State Department of Correction. At the same time, Rabbi Praver pursued a doctoral degree in prison ministry through Hartford Seminary. He is expected to graduate this winter, 2019.
Rabbi Praver’s humanitarian work earned him the prestigious Samaritan Medal for Peace. He is also a gifted cantorial artist and author of several manuscripts.
Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver
Rev. Melvyn Kawakami has a lifelong personal and professional commitment to ministry. After growing up in a close-knit Japanese community in San Jose, CA, he attended the University of the Pacific for his Bachelor of Arts, then headed east to Harvard Divinity School for his Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, with a focus on pastoral counseling.
While working at Harvard Bureau of Study Counsel, Rev. Kawakami guided students as they navigated the spiritually and psychologically rigorous demands of the University. In the mid-Nineties, he directed the Manchester Pastoral Counseling Center in Manchester, CT, and served Simsbury United Methodist Church (UMC) for almost 20 years in various pastoral roles, including Senior Pastor from 2004-2008. He has also served as Interim Pastor for churches in nearby Avon and Pleasant Valley.
In 2008, with a passion for mission and parish care, Rev. Kawakami arrived at Sandy Hook as Senior Pastor for Newtown UMC. He guided the congregation in the devastating wake of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. He retired in July 2016.
Rev. Kawakami currently fills the role of a loving husband, Uncle Mel to many nieces and nephews, and the attentive custodian of Mimi, a very opinionated West Highland White Terrier.
Rev. Marvel Hitson
Rev. Marvel Hitson is the Director of Congregational Health and Trauma Chaplain with the Institute of Collective Trauma & Growth. Rev. Hitson received her Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary focusing on Pastoral Care and Counseling, as well as a BA in Human Environmental Sciences & Family Services. Her ministry has found her serving in a variety of capacities, including: Hospice & Palliative Care Chaplain; Bereavement Counselor & Educator; Director of Spiritual Formation for Families; Associate Minister for Youth; Compassion & Outreach Ministry Leader; Program Coordinator for La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center, as well as Spiritual Care and Social Work Intern at Princeton Medical Center and Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, respectively. Her training also includes clinical pastoral education, FEMA’s Crisis Counseling and Assistance Program, and mindfulness practitioner training.