The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, shut down New York City and left residents in a state of shock. Churches opened their doors to comfort and care for all who came to seek refuge and pray for healing. As we mark the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, United Methodists recall how New York congregations responded to the needs of the community after 9/11.
This video was first posted on August 31, 2016.
(Locator: New York, NY)
(Music, scenes of people praying at 2001 vigil)
The Rev. K Karpen, Church of St. Paul and St Andrew: “I remember the challenge of just trying to be able to stop crying long enough to pray.”
Jay Rice: “Some of the women in my office asked me to pray with them. And we got in a circle and we had a little prayer, which was, you know...an unusual thing in my office.
Ngozi Okaro: “I just think about like how jarring that was and how we all needed a space to be both comforted and a place to belong and how this church was then that sort of place for me.”
In the hours and days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, United Methodist churches in New York near Ground Zero opened their doors.
The Rev. Stephen Bauman, Christ Church United Methodist: “It was standing room only here.”
People turned to pastors like the Rev. Stephen Bauman at Christ Church United Methodist and the Rev. K Karpen of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. Karpen remembers that he, like everyone else, was struggling for the right words.
The Rev. K Karpen: “I remember Psalm 69 where it says, 'Help me, God, for the waters are coming up to my neck and I sink in deep mire. There is no foothold.' It felt like a day without a foothold.”
From the first day, members mobilized--stepping up feeding programs and offering counseling. Doing what people of faith do when neighbors need comfort and hope.
Jackie DeGroat: “My friend and I got a list of every family in the church with kids and called everyone and said, 'Are you okay? Are your kids okay?'”
Paul Pillitteri: “The Washington Square church had always been a beacon of freedom, justice and love. And so we went there to help feed people. And we had a homeless feeding program. The homeless still needed to be fed. That didn’t change.”
Jennifer Rodia: “What I remember most is probably just mashing pounds and pounds of potatoes and the faces of the firefighters coming off of Ground Zero, still covered in that white ash but now sharing a meal with their colleagues and just taking a moment. And you could see in those moments the importance of the kindness of strangers, that it makes a difference when we give of ourselves.”
Martha Chapman: “I remember having really, like, naked soul eye contact with complete strangers who I never saw before and I never saw again. But I remember some of those gazes. You just walk past someone on the street and you see their soul. And their soul is crying.”
Churches became places of peace and dialogue.
The Rev. K Karpen: “We were worried about all the people calling for a military response. And so we began to look through some of the teachings in our Book of Resolution from the Methodist tradition about peace and peacemaking. And we collected that and we put them all in different postcards. And we got people from the church to write those postcards to President Bush.”
Jennifer Rodia: “I felt like God’s name had been co-opted by people who wanted to use it for evil. 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.”
Jay Rice, Christ Church: “There were some programs to meet with people from the Muslim community. And lately I’ve been thinking, ‘Boy I wish they had that thing in the rest of the country,’ because you see today so much suspicion and anger toward the Muslim community.”
Martha Chapman: “With all of this shielding ripped away, people’s kind of naked need for care and community was exposed, and a place that we could find it was inside the doors of the church.”
September 11 remains a time to remember when people came together to pray for the good of all.
The Rev. Stephen Bauman: “There is an opportunity here to reclaim the message of grace and love out of the devastation so that together we can take hands one with the other to rebuild for the future, for the common good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”