In New York, Pennsylvania and nationwide, Episcopalians remember September 11 attacks

September 12, 2008

On the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that killed some 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Episcopal congregations around the country remembered the dead, comforted the bereaved, and sought hope for the future.

At St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan, which served as a relief mission for recovery workers at “Ground Zero,” the site of the World Trade Center, in the days and weeks after the attacks, prayers for peace, laying-on of hands for healing, and quiet musical meditations were offered throughout the afternoon. The Bell of Hope—a gift to New York from the city of London a year after the original attacks--was rung in St. Paul’s churchyard at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first hijacked airplane few into the Twin Towers.

St. Paul’s continued to be a center for ministry to Ground Zero workers for nearly a year after the attacks. More than 14,000 volunteers worked in 12 hour shifts to provide solace, comfort and care for 2,000 workers each day. Many of these volunteers and recovery workers, as well as victims’ family members and workers in the surrounding area, attended the anniversary observances.

The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Church, offered words of hope and healing at a votive Eucharist at the historic parish on Wall Street. "We have demonstrated throughout our nation's history and once again on September 11, 2001, that we are a city and nation of resiliency and strength. Today, families and communities are facing many challenges and difficult choices. The tremendous volunteer effort that spontaneously emerged in the moments, hours, days after 9/11 shows us that we can lean on each other for support, become stronger by remembering those we lost, find hope in rebuilding, and together move closer toward peace."

Episcopalians were among the interfaith partners who took part in a traditional floating lantern ceremony sponsored by the New York Buddhist Church. Lanterns were set on the water of the Hudson River, representing the “transformation of suffering into hope,” said Buddhist leader T.K. Nakagaki, who conducted the event. Each lantern bore a prayer or message or the name of a person who died on 9/11, and each one was set floating on the Hudson after an interfaith service of music, meditation and prayer. Nakagaki led Sutra chants as the 108 lanterns bobbed in the river.

The Rev. Chloe Breyer, an associate priest at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Harlem and director of the Interfaith Center of New York, who participated in the event, said she was “privileged to work with people of other faith traditions -- Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim -- who felt themselves representatives of these faith traditions but also as New Yorkers."

Her experiences as a chaplain at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks, Breyer said, influenced her own journey by helping her "see the importance of interfaith work and cooperation--instead of the alternative--as enormously important to our whole society."

Breyer first took part in the memorial floating lanterns ceremony last year. "What I find so moving about it is that it's an interfaith service,” she said while preparing for this year’s observance. “What I remember most strikingly from last year is the act of writing my own prayer on a piece of parchment. Something about that act brought back the painful memory of photos of lost loved ones that went up all over the city following 9-11, and something about that physical act of writing a prayer on paper connected me with a sorrowful and powerful community.”

At a memorial park in New York, another interfaith service, conducted by Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Jewish chaplains, was attended by workers from the office of New York’s chief medical examiner, where the unidentified remains of 9/11 victims are stored.

“Many of the victims’ families came to Memorial Park, some to participate in the service, others just to bring flowers, say prayers, etc. at pictures and other memorabilia of their loved ones, for whom there is no closure,” said the Rev. Deacon Elizabeth A. Belasco or the Diocese of Long Island, who was one of the chaplains.

“Please pray for all those who have suffered loss, especially those for whom there is still no closure, and please pray for us chaplains who continue to be there for them,” she added.

An event at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, also drew together people of various faith communities to commemorate the events of 9/11 and to promote understanding and cooperation among them. The program involved worship at the cathedral, a presentation by a Buddhist teacher, and a traditional Muslim meal, which commenced after sundown in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

To south and west, churches remember victims, first responders

At St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson, in the Diocese of Mississippi, some 200 worshippers, called to the service by the mournful sounds of a bagpipe, offered prayers and hymns in honor of the victims and the firefighters, military personnel and police officers who responded on that day.

"It's about the first-responders, every one," said Johnny Bass, chief of Jackson’s Fire Department District 1, who attended the service along with many other city firefighters. “We are honored to be here.”

Across the country, in the state of Washington, the Rev. Debora Jennings led liturgies of remembrance at St. Matthew’s Church in Prosser and Holy Trinity Church in Sunnyside.

“Every year on this day, I feel it is very important to gather people together to pray for those who died and the people who protect our country,” she said.

On the day of the attacks, Jennings was serving at a church in Utah, and teaching at a university. Students and staff at the school were horrified by the attacks, and asked Jennings what they should do. “We pray,’” she told them. That night, more than 200 people of different faiths met at her church to pray for help and healing. Every year since, wherever she has been, she has organized a memorial service on September 11.

Janet Kawamoto is associate editor of Episcopal Life Online. She is based in Los Angeles, California. The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton, Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces I and IV, contributed to this report. She is based in Venice, Florida.

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