9/11 Remembered--The Tenth Anniversary

Where were you on 9/11 when the first airplane struck one of the twin towers?  I think this is the question that resonates with each of us for this tragic day--where were you?  What were you doing?  In what ways did your world view, your life journey, your experience of God, your faith foundation shake or remain firm?

On September 11 ten years ago, I was the pastor of the Demorest Federated Church in Demorest, Georgia.  A federated church is when two different faith tradition congregations make a covenant to become one church congregation honoring and continuing to practice each one's faith traditions within the congregation.  The Methodist and the Congregational church of Demorest came together and wrote a covenant to be one church sharing the Congregational church building.  This was my first appointment as a pastor, and I have cherished memories of the people of this small membership church.

I was waiting on a insurance agent to arrive to inspect flooding and sewage water damage in the basement of the church that morning, and I was about to walk the two blocks from the parsonage to the church.  As I started to turn off the TV--tuned to Good Morning America--I heard and saw the announcement and video of the first plane hitting one of the towers.  I stood still and listened to the voice trying to explain what was happening, and then I saw the video.  My soul shuddered, and I knew that this was not an accident no matter what the reporter was saying.  I could not move my feet toward the door.  I watched the video again.  

For eleven years (1974-1985) I had been married to a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, and I had spent three years living with a Ranger training unit in Florida.  My experience with living with my first husband and in a military community with these specially trained tactical combat soldiers guided me in knowing that what I was seeing was deliberate--I knew this, and yet, my faith in God told me to move my feet, turn off the television and go meet the insurance agent at the church.

He was half an hour late arriving, and I had been without any news as I waited on him and prayed.  When he arrived, he told me that another plane had hit the other twin tower.  He had family that lived on Long Island, and he had talked with them briefly--all were safe--and now he only got a busy signal when he tried to call them.  We prayed together for the safety of his family, for all involved in this tragedy that we had no name to describe, and for our country.  He made his assessment of the damage to our church, and the insurance claim was now on its way to being honored and payment issued for the clean up that we would have to contract with professionals to get completed safely and correctly--it was a mess, yet a mess that could be fixed somewhat easily.

I remember walking out of the church, looking up at the beautiful clear blue sky, and thinking what a mess--the church building and all that was going on in our country and possibly other places in the world.  What was happening?  Then a church member, driving by the front of the church, stopped me to ask me if I knew about all the planes.  I told her I knew about the two planes that had crashed into the Twin Towers, and then she told me about the one that had crashed into the Pentagon, and that there was a fourth plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania.  I was stunned.

Slowly, walking back to the parsonage, I knew I needed to talk with may daughter who was  at Oxford in England on a study abroad program.  I knew that she would be worried, and I had no way of direct contact with her.  Then I remembered my friend, Alice, and her husband whose office was in the Pentagon, and then I panicked for her and for her husband.  I tried to call her, and of course all "circuits were busy."

Like the majority of people in the U.S. and around the world that day, I turned on my television and watch the day continue to unfold.  I talked with my husband and my son, I contacted church members to check on them and found out that two of them were stranded in airports and could not travel home on planes because all flights had been grounded and they were hoping to rent cars to drive home, and I watched and waited and prayed for God's strength for God's people to carry us through this tragedy.

Later that afternoon, my daughter was able to get a call through to me, and we talked.  She was worried, and I assured her that we were all okay.  She was safe.  Then my friend Alice called later that evening to let me know that her husband was in Florida and had not been in his office in the Pentagon.  He was safe.  But so many were not safe, and so many people's lives would never be the same again.

I remained stunned and hopeful that people would be found alive.  Mostly, the news continued to be tragic.  The death toll, the mess, the funerals/memorial services, the grieving, the unbearable loss, and the clean up of it all would be...endless.

Life had changed.  What I knew as normal was no longer normal...there was no normal.

On Wednesday evening, Piedmont College opened its chapel for a community service for prayer, grieving and remembrance. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor read scripture along with others and my main memory is singing "There is a Balm in Gilead":

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul
Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work's in vain
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again
Don't ever feel discouraged
For Jesus is your friend
And if you lack of knowledge
He'll ne'er refuse to lend
If you cannot preach like Peter
If you cannot pray like Paul
You can tell the love of Jesus
And say, "He died for all."

These words still remain with me today--there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.  Ten years later, I still pray for the balm of Gilead that heals sin-sick souls.  Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.


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