Responding to hate: 9/11 and the power of love
One of Jesus’ most difficult commands is to love our enemies. “Just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete,” he says (Matthew 5:48 CEB).
Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, United Methodists in New York City have been finding ways to respond to an act of hate with love.
Each year, the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in New York City holds an interfaith dinner. “We bring together 50 Christians, 50 Jews, and 50 Muslims,” the Rev. K Karpen, pastor of the congregation explains. “We gather for a meal we call a Peace Feast because we share readings from our different traditions about peace.”
“My favorite part is always in the beginning when we’re trying to mix up all the tables,” Karpen continues. “We always have people who are calling out, ‘Hey, we need another Muslim over here.’ Or, ‘we need some Jews over here.’ ‘Anybody got a Christian?’ ‘Do we have any Methodists wandering around? They can come and be with us.’”
One year, a rabbi noticed beauty in the chaos.
“This is paradise,” Karpen remembers the rabbi saying. “This is how it’s going to be. It’s not going to be like, ‘You’re not like me. Stay away.’ … It’s going to be, ‘Hey, Jews, Muslims, Christians, come here together.’”
“I think he’s right,” the pastor concludes.
The United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew is just six miles from the site of the World Trade Center. Karpen has been their pastor since 1984.
“It always seems like it’s very distant in the past,” he reflects. “It’s years and years ago until you get to that day. Then it seems like it just happened yesterday.”
Ministry to first responders today
Strength for Service, an independent ministry supported by United Methodist Men, is seeking to distribute 100,000 copies of their devotional to first responders and military personnel in 2016 to mark the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001.
Learn how you and your congregation can be part of this initiative.
Love triumphs over tragedy
The Rev. June Stitzinger-Clark was serving as pastor of the Atlantic Highlands and Navesink United Methodist churches in New Jersey on September 11, 2001. When the morning news reported a fire at the World Trade Center, she and her husband went to the harbor to pray for the situation.
Later that morning, Stitzinger-Clark returned to do what she could to be helpful as people evacuating New York arrived at the harbor by ferry and private boat. She and “Father Bob,” the Rev. Robert Tynski the local Catholic priest, shuttled notes between loved ones, prayed with all who requested it, and “emptied out” the Catholic church’s thrift shop to provide clothes to those coming out of the decontamination showers.
Stitzinger-Clark vividly remembers a pregnant woman who was worried that her husband didn’t know where she was. Later in the day, Stitzinger-Clark saw the woman walking down Main Street with her husband. When she saw the pastor, the woman smiled and lifted her husband’s hand.
“She was lifting up a sense of glory that God had intervened,” Stitzinger-Clark reports. “Love triumphed in the midst of all that tragedy.”
Paul Pillitteri and his then-fiancée Martha Chapman were finishing plans for their wedding scheduled for September 15, 2001, at Washington Square United Methodist Church, less than 2 miles from the site of the World Trade Center. In the days immediately following the attack, Chapman was determined to go ahead with the wedding.
“This was about hate,” she remembers thinking, “and our marriage is about love. We’re going to do this.”
Soon, however, the couple realized it would be impossible. They were married November 24, 2001.
Chapman describes connections she felt to others. “I remember having naked soul eye-contact with complete strangers,” she says.
The Rev. Stephen Bauman, pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in New York City, also recalls a pervasive sense of unity.
“The city very quickly adopted a ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of attitude. It was quite stunning really. The differences people had just melted away.”
“I felt like God’s name had been co-opted by people who wanted to use it for evil,” Jennifer Rodia, Chief Communications Officer with United Methodist Communications, remembers. She was a member of Christ Church in 2001. “And in times like that it is so important for people of faith to do whatever they can to show that love is a much more powerful force than hate.”
Rodia was soon “mashing hundreds of pounds of potatoes” and helping feed volunteers working at the site of the World Trade Center.
“I remember the faces of the firefighters coming in from the work site, covered in that white-gray ash, sitting down at a table and sharing a meal with their colleagues and experiencing the kindness of strangers. And I realized how powerful love is.”
“It’s hard to look back on that day,” Karpen confesses. “I would like us to all be looking to the future, hopefully a good future and a peaceful future.” A future that will connect people who are loving and serving both God and their neighbor.
the Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The Rev. Jason Radmacher, pastor of John Street United Methodist Church whose building is located three blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, encourages his congregation to continue to share the power of love today.
“I think the people of John Street Church are more empathetic having experienced the chaos of that day,” he says. “We remember what it was like to be running scared, not knowing where our loved ones were, and what was going to happen next. Living through that moment, you realize how many people around the world face terrible adversity every day. I think the Holy Spirit can use that awareness to increase our ability to love one another.”
“I often return to the Prayer of Saint Francis at this time of year,” Radmacher continues. “It reminds me that we all have a choice to make. Do we want to walk in the light or live in the dark?”
Whenever we choose to show love to everyone, as Jesus commands, we are choosing to walk in the light.
This story was first published on September 1, 2016.