Church Center staff gathers strength from each other as they begin new work week

September 17, 2001

As staff at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City began a new work week, they gathered as a community in the chapel Monday morning in an attempt to sift through the implications of last week's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

'It's been an incredible week,' said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold in opening the session. 'Our lives have been permanently changed by events last Tuesday.' He noted that, while some staff had been directly affected, no one had escaped the impact of events. But it is time, he added, to 'restore our work patterns while still in the throes of traumatic experience.'

Griswold, who visited Episcopal sites near Ground Zero last Friday, said that there was 'an incredible sense of solidarity in the city,' with people extended generosity to each other while living with the personal and collective trauma. 'This is a season in which we must take life one day at a time,' he said.

'Be generous with yourselves and with each other,' he urged. 'You suffered a wound and wounds take their own time in healing. Listen to one another as you live with contradictory feelings' of anger and frustration.

Griswold said that Bishop George Packard, bishop for the Armed Services, Health Care and Prison Ministries, would coordinate volunteer efforts of the national staff but he said that it would be necessary to bring some balance to those efforts 'so that life here can go on.'

Fear of backlash

A sign outside the entrance to the Church Center invites people to use the first-floor chapel for private prayer or to join in the daily services. It also offers pastoral counseling. Almost 80 people from the neighborhood joined staff members for the noon Eucharist last Friday.

Packard, who was an Army chaplain in Vietnam who also worked at the Pentagon, said that the terrorist attack was 'the most awful thing I've experienced.' He said that the Rev. Jackie Means of his staff was working with an FBI morgue team on Long Island, with help from the diocese and a parish in Queens. He told his staff colleagues that 'routine work is the best thing that you can do' in the healing process.

Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, read part of a statement that will be sent to interfaith groups, expressing the church's deep concern for a backlash, especially against Muslims. 'Backlash violence against America's Muslims, Sikhs and others only serves to redouble the tragedy of the events of Tuesday, September 11. There is so much we need to remember (or learn for the first time) as we try to make sense of all that has happened.'

The statement points out that Islam does not condone the kind of violence perpetrated last Tuesday. 'At its heart, Islam is a religion of peace and in Islam the standard greeting is 'Peace be upon you,'' he said. 'There is no place in Islam for suicide or for violence against innocents.'

New relationships

Griswold described his visit to the area. 'Trinity Parish is alive and well,' he reported, but must wait for an inspection to determine any possible structural damage before they could resume worship services on site. On Sunday Griswold joined members of the parish in services at the shrine of Mother Seton, the first American-born saint. Not only was it an ecumenically important symbol, but Griswold noted that Seton was married at Trinity Church before she became a Roman Catholic.

Staff members shared their experiences in the wake of the tragedy. The Rev. Don Thompson of the Association of Episcopal Colleges was in London and stood with thousands of people outside of St. Paul's Church during a special service of remembrance and prayer. It began with a rousing rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner.'

'It is clear that others see themselves in a new relationship with the United States,' said Griswold. Now that Americans have experienced such an immense tragedy, it may be easier to relate to others in the world for whom violence is daily are, he said. 'A community that suffers violence is bound to others, as members of the human family,' he said.

The Rev. Jane Butterfield of Anglican and Global Relations reminded her colleagues that the Episcopal Church has over a hundred missionaries around the world, extensions of the Church Center staff. Many of them are receiving messages of support and compassion. She encouraged the staff to send those missionaries greetings at this time of shared grief.

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