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Chaplains, pastoral counselors aid victims of terrorist attacks

9/19/2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #410.

A UMNS Report By Kathy Gilbert*

United Methodist chaplains and pastoral counselors are among the many who have rushed to the aid of the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh.

"United Methodist chaplains and pastoral counselors are called to stand in the midst of the broken places with the broken people," said Patricia Barrett, executive in the Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries at the denomination's Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

"These are people who are prepared for these types of crises," Barrett said. "They have taken the gifts God has given to them and devoted themselves to using those gifts to be effective in the face of the same emotional chaos that they themselves are also experiencing."

Barrett's unit is receiving e-mail notes and messages from chaplains in New York and Washington.

The Rev. Dale White, a U.S. Navy chaplain and member of the New York Annual (regional) Conference, reported on work during the day of the attacks, Sept. 11. "Tonight, we will spend the night on the lawn of the Pentagon, ministering to rescue workers who have a difficult and physically draining job. Please pause and pray for them, their families, and all those who have died or lost loved ones here and in New York and in the Pittsburgh area on this tragic day. May our faith shine through the darkness to bring them hope."

The chaplains' work is not easy. The Rev. Jo Ann Mann, an Army chaplain and member of the Florida Annual Conference, described the work of fellow Army chaplain Terry Bradfield at the Pentagon site. About 188 people are dead or missing after terrorists crashed a hijacked plane into the building.

"It is my understanding Terry spent three consecutive days with the staff inside the refrigeration truck where bodies and body parts were taken," Mann said. "You don't get attention for doing things like that. No one sees you honoring the dead or encouraging the wounded, but I can think of no more difficult ministry." Bradfield is a member of the West Virginia Annual Conference.

Clergy who minister in military, industrial, health care, or prison settings are accountable to the annual conference, but they are endorsed by the Division of Ordained Ministry in the Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries. Endorsement is the process established by the church to ensure appropriate representatives in such settings. People serving in those settings are expected to have specialized training to qualify for endorsement.

Pastoral care has often been identified as a "ministry of presence" and chaplaincy has been spoken of as being a "reminder of the sacred," Barrett said.

The Rev. Paula Payne, a member of the New England Conference, is a United Methodist chaplain with the Air National Guard at the Otis base in Cape Code, Mass.

"The first jets that flew over New York City, Sept. 11, were from my base, Otis," she wrote. "I was already there for the week attending a human resources meeting, and the jets took off in such a troubling way, I knew something was up. Then suddenly we were told about the attack on New York City. God knew I would be needed there at that time. As mentioned on the news, we are on alert. I have been asked to return to Otis. We are taking one day at a time."

Pastoral care organizations have initiated their disaster response procedures in this time of crisis, Barrett said. "These caregivers don't focus on a particular denomination or faith in times like this. They work ecumenically and through interfaith groups to take care of those in need."

Barrett said chaplains and pastoral counselors from outside the area will be offering their services in the weeks to come as relief to those in New York and Washington D.C.

Sam Mariya and his wife, Deb, visited the Pentagon shortly after the plane crash. Deb is a medically retired United Methodist Navy chaplain, and her husband worked at the Pentagon. "His [Sam's] relief [replacement] and the entire staff at his last assignment were located in the section that collapsed and are among the dead. It is tragic beyond belief, and I believe that we have experienced true evil in our midst," Deb said.

"We have received calls from chaplains who are retired or are inactive offering to help," Barrett said. "Many of our chaplains in New York and Washington have also called just to let us know they are OK."

Chaplains who are working in these situations not only provide care to the patients and family of victims but also to the caregivers on staff in hospitals and relief workers on site. "They are there to support the people who are doing the hands-on care," she said.

On Sept. 14, the Rev. Robert Phillips, United Methodist Navy chaplain, held a service of prayer and remembrance at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. It was part of an interfaith memorial attended by several hundred. The school has one of the largest concentrations of Muslim students in the U.S. military.

The service included a reading from the Koran and brief comments from an Egyptian doctoral student as well as words from Phillips: "America remains indivisible, united, resolved that justice be done. And above the nations and the evil and the passion of the moment, God remains and reigns. May God's wisdom guide our leaders in the days to come; may God's Spirit move us to deepening courage and compassion and perspective as we live through these difficult days, and may God's will be done."

United Methodist chaplains are serving at several hospitals in the affected cities, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and St. Vincent's Medical Center, both in New York; and Sibley Memorial Hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Washington Hospital Center in Washington.

The Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries has published a packet of worship cards as a pastoral-care kit for use in situations where other resources are not available. One of the cards is for emergency workers and caregivers. The cards are available for order through Cokesbury, 1-800-672-1789 or Prayers for the emergency workers and caregivers can be found at online.

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*Gilbert is a member of the staff of the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

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