Bishop Martin McLee was in Newtown, CT, Sunday. A little girl came up to him at a memorial service and something simple, yet moving.
"She said, 'Thank you for coming,' " he said. "That was a gift to me, of hospitality" even though she was in pain.
McLee, who was recently elected bishop of the United Methodist Church, New York Episcopal Area, said he was as shocked as anyone when he heard of the shootings Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six adults after killing his mother.
"When we heard what happened there was a sense of unbelief," he said, "then realistically that it did happen."
He said his next thought was simple: "How can we help?"
McLee worshipped with friends and families of the Newtown victims Sunday and said he expressed his church's resolve to be there for all the families affected by the tragedy.
"The encouragement was to rely on our faith," he said. "Our faith still informs us of a healing and diminishing of the horror.
McLee, a Brooklyn native, is the former senior pastor of the Union United Methodist Church in Boston. He was an adjunct professor in social work at Simmons College and also taught at Brandeis University.
He has been a community activist and lecturer on issues concerning HIV/AIDS and the faith community and race and racism.
McLee received a master's degree in divinity in 1998 from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University and a juris doctor degree in 1988 from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University. He also holds a master's of science in education from Fordham University and a bachelor's of science in health from Hunter College.
McLee said the people he met with in Newtown were saying that they still were in a state of disbelief.
"They are not sure what they should be doing," he said, "how to go on with life. There is an uncertainty of trying to live."
His advise was to "not allow anyone to tell you how much you should cry. Go with whatever emotional journey you are on and live it out."
The New Rochelle resident said he hopes and prays the grief will lessen with the passage of time.
He said people who might question why God would let children be massacred should remember Isaiah 55:8.
"God said, 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' " McLee said.
"I just invite folks to remember the totality of what it means to be faithful," he said. "God did not cause this. God is not done with us, with twisting blessings out of this.
"As painful as it is, we will see some blessing," McLane said.
One thing the bishop is certain about is his opinion that guns that fire multiple rounds of bullets should not be in the hands of civilians.
"I am 100 percent in favor of banning guns," he said. "I have for most of my life thought the need for excessive guns is outweighed by the harm they can cause."
With Christmas just around the corner, McLee hoped people wouldn't be tempted to give up on the holiday.
"I want to encourage a second look," he said.
McLee said Jesus was homeless when he was born to a teenage mother and a skeptical father. Right after his birth, Jesus and his family had to flee to another country to survive.
"Jesus was one who was born into struggle, wrapped in rags," he said. "In our pain, we are reminded of a Christ who knew pain … and the hope that comes from the manger."