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9/11 Pastor Seeks Peace


United Methodist pastor Myrna Bethke lost a brother on September 1, 2001 but she found a way to channel her grief and anger. She decided to help her congregants, and others, work toward making the world a more peaceful place. This interview was done in 2011 as Bethke and others reflected on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

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(Locator: Red Bank, New Jersey)

The Rev. Myrna Bethke: "On 9/11, I lost my youngest brother, Bill Bethke in line of the direct, first plane that hit. I'm sitting at the computer looking at breaking news all of a sudden coming up with planes crashing into the World Trade Towers. That's when I started calling my parents to say, 'Was he working that day? What was going on? Had they heard from him? His remains have not ever been identified."

Carol Rigler, The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, NJ: "There was this pall of yellow smoke drifting down the coast and you knew what it was."

Breton Shindel, The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, NJ: "It was kind of devastating to me. I knew people who had lost loved ones."

The Rev. Myrna Bethke, Senior Pastor, The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, NJ: "Almost everybody knows somebody who died or has friends whose family members died, particularly in this region of New Jersey. It's everybody."

(Preaches) "What do we do with the struggles of our life?"

The Rev. Myrna Bethke: "I decided as a pastor that I was still a pastor, even though I was a 9/11 family member. And from the very beginning, I wanted to make sure that this was not going to be something that turned me into looking for violence and retribution. In February of 2002, I learned about a group called, '9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.' I travelled to Afghanistan as part of an interfaith peace delegation, spent two weeks with Jews, Christians and Muslims. While we were in Kabul, we talked to a little girl named Amina one night. She had lost everybody in a coalition force bombing. We didn't understand her, but we knew she was saying the name died, name, died-- and it was just this long list of people. And I thought, 'No eight-year-old should have to do that.' We all grieve in the same way. And let's work for a world where we're not doing that."

Carol Rigler: "By setting the example of going to Afghanistan, if she can do that, the rest of us can do likewise."

Breton Shindel: "Rev. Bethke has set a tone to be very accepting of others in our church."

The Rev. Myrna Bethke: "When I take my confirmation class to the mosque and to the temple or even to other Christian faith traditions, my goal for them is&ellipsis; When you know the names and stories of people of other faith traditions or other cultures, then they become people, rather than that group that is apart from us."

(Preaches) "For now we see only in a mirror, dimly."

The Rev. Myrna Bethke: "I remember preaching after 9/11 that we will either rise or sink to this occasion and I choose to rise. And I'm thankful for the foundation, for me, that The United Methodist Church has provided."

(Preaches) "None of that is to say that we simply dismiss the wounds."

The Rev. Myrna Bethke: "What is the path, even in the midst of this, to reconciliation? What does restoration look like? What can we do to bring, even out of this, something good?"


In 2011, Myrna Bethke marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11 at a ceremony for family members at Ground Zero. She was chosen to read the names of some of those who died that day. 

If you are interested in learning more about Peaceful Tomorrows, visit their website.

This story was first posted on September 11, 2011. It was produced by United Methodist Communications. News media contact is Fran Walsh at 615-742-5458.

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