Worship in a Time of Uncertainty
Many leaders in the local religious community on Sunday will reflect on spiritual lessons we can learn in a post-9/11 world.
These lessons will be addressed at Doylestown-area religious institutions this Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of the incomprehensible national tragedy known simply as “9/11.”
Nearly 3,000 lives were lost that day, including those on four jets hijacked by terrorists bent on making a personal attack against the United States.
The 10 years since then have passed by quickly. Yet the memory still lingers in the hearts of those who remember the chilling sight of New York City’s twin towers crumbling to the ground, and the gaping hole in Pentagon caused by the crash of Flight 77, and the smoke rising from the Pennsylvania countryside, marking the crash site of Flight 93. They remain still today the most destructive acts of terrorism on American soil.
“There’s no way we can ever forget it,” said Msgr. Joseph P. Gentili, who leads Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church in Buckingham.
Gentili’s homily and prayers on Sunday will reference the tragic event, as will other sermons delivered throughout the local religious community.
“The intensity or experience may diminish as time goes on, just like Dec. 7 and just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, but it will live in infamy,” said Gentili, referring to the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
At Main Street Baptist Church in Doylestown, lead pastor Dr. Jerry Schmoyer will deliver a sermon entitled “Sand.” The message is based on Matthew 7: 24-27 – a parable of the two builders.
One man built his house on rock, so that when the winds blew and rains poured, his house was secure on a solid foundation. But another man built his house on sand, so that when “the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, it fell with a great crash.”
“Putting our faith in this world and in life is like building on sand,” said Schmoyer.
If your foundation is sure through your belief in God, he said, no storm or event as heinous as 9/11 will cause your life to collapse.
Following the attacks, churches and synagogues throughout the country reported a surge in attendance. Local members of the cloth say turnout has waned, though, in the years since 9/11 – to the disappointment of many, including Lenape Valley Presbyterian Church’s lead pastor.
“The constant clamor and business of life causes us to lose our focus on God and we get caught up again in it, then we become ill-prepared for experiencing the next 9/11,” said the Rev. W. Douglas Hood Jr.
Hood’s sermon to his New Britain congregation this Sunday will be “The Difference Between Belief and Faith.” He maintains the two are not interchangeable.
“Belief is a mental consent to anything – to say, ‘Yes, I accept that as fact,’ ” Hood explained. “Faith goes beyond that. It is deep-seated confidence that is followed by intentional practices in one’s life – living your life in such as manner as your life depends on it."
It’s a message he hopes is taken to heart and implemented daily.
“Too often in culture we don’t pay attention to the presence and activity of God in the world, and what that leads to is a sense of questioning when a tragedy hits like 9/11. We experience despair, but that despair is because we haven’t been paying attention to Jesus Christ.”
Keeping a life of balance while staying close “to God and God’s people, we can remain encouraged in times of hurt and terror and brokenness,” he said.
While shocking and deeply profound, the tragedy of 9/11 brought Americans closer together as a community and changed our perspectives on so many levels.
“As devastating and as horrible as that whole experience was, that day there was not a Democrat, a Republican, a Jew, a gentile, black or white – we were a people who were suffering together, and when there’s suffering, people come together,” said Gentili. “We gathered as a country, coming together and making room in the hearts of humanity universally for some kind of openness.”
The Rev. Lucy Amerman, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Buckingham, agrees.
“People responded to this like other tragedies, although this was totally different, in that they look for community immediately. One of the places they look for community is a church, because they look for God. And I think people continue to look for that.”
We also had to examine our own prejudices post-9/11, particularly toward the Muslim religion.
Amerman’s message on “Forgiveness” this Sunday just happens to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary.
“I’ll talk about how tough it is to come to terms with something that has hurt you so badly and how we handle that,” she said.
But she’s also making sure those people who lay their lives on the line as emergency responders are recognized. The church's 10:15 a.m. service is planned to pay tribute to local firefighters, police and ambulance crew with a blessing of them and their vehicles.
“One of the things 9/11 did, of course, is show us that level of dedication of the police and fire departments, but the fact is that dedication is there all the time and we don’t pay any attention to it unless it affects us personally,” she said. “It’s important to recognize all the time what these people do for us without any thanks from anybody.”
“People could just not fathom having nonviolence and terrorism in the same sentence,” recalled Rick Howe, a member of the Doylestown Meeting.
With the 10th anniversary approaching, Howe said he began to fear visual reminders of the towers falling “over and over again and a military focus on the commemorations of the war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, covert wars in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – all making things worse.”
So Howe responded by turning the negative into positive and focusing on utilizing peaceful means to address extremist acts. On Sunday, he will present a forum on “The Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism.”
Today, even 10 years later, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are seared into the hearts and minds of all those who bore witness that day to an event so terrible that it still seems unimaginable.
Looking back on that devastation, Schmoyer holds on to his own strong foundation of faith and hopes others can do the same: “Instead of panic and fear, it’s time to look above.”