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New York United Methodists remember Sept. 11

9/12/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: Photographs are available. For related coverage, see UMNS story #408.

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - On a busy uptown street, as crosstown buses and sanitation trucks rumbled by, the names of the dead were intoned outside Park Avenue United Methodist Church.

At the 13th Street entrance to Metropolitan-Duane United Methodist Church - where anyone looking south got a clear view of the empty sky where the twin towers once stood - a small but steady stream of people entered the sanctuary to sit and reflect.

At John Street United Methodist Church, where the congregation can trace its origins to the late 1700s, worshippers memorialized those who had perished in the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero, only two blocks away.

These were but a few of the ways that United Methodists in New York remembered the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, one year later.

For many New Yorkers, the first anniversary was still a workday or school day, and those were the people the Rev. William Shillady was trying to reach when he set up a pulpit outside the doors of Park Avenue Church on East 86th Street. In the middle of the sidewalk stood a box with the sign, "You are welcome to take a candle to light on September 11th." By the time the 8:30 a.m. service began, half of the 4,000 candles donated by Cokesbury and the United Methodist Publishing House were gone. Another sign reminded passersby that counselors were available inside.

The weather was just as nice as the year before when those gathered at Park Avenue read a litany of remembrance for office workers, bystanders, firefighters, police officers and all others who lost their life that day. But a strong breeze, which would swirl up the very dust at Ground Zero, made it difficult to keep the candles lit.

At 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the first tower, and at other significant times during the morning, Shillady rang a bell to mark a moment of silence. Then the reading of the names of the more than 2,800 victims at Ground Zero began. The readers included a group of district superintendents from across the country, in the city for a meeting at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries the next day.

A path was deliberately left clear on the sidewalk, and the rest of New York - women pushing strollers, delivery persons, shoppers, business people - came walking by as the reading of names continued. Some passersby paused for a while; others continued on with the day's tasks. A well-dressed woman stopped briefly to cross herself in front of the church doors. A young man in a suit, wearing a baseball cap, strode through purposely and then hesitated, looking as if he was listening for a name he might know.

Inside the church, where the names could still be heard, five to 10 people at a time sat in prayer. A single rose sat in a vase before the altar, placed there, as a sign outside the sanctuary explained, as a reminder "of each individual killed on September 11th, ordinary people who had gone to work that morning, whose acts of unselfishness and bravery we are awed (by) as we remember."

Further downtown, people had been going in and out of the sanctuary at Metropolitan-Duane church since 6 a.m. The pastor, the Rev. Takauki Ishii, finished the morning service with two minutes of silence at 10:28 a.m., the time the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

A long banner, proclaiming "Our thoughts and prayers are with you," hung along the altar rail, a gift signed by members of a Virginia church and sent last September. From the pulpit hung a colorful cascade of 1,000 small, attached origami "peace cranes," made by members of a church in Kamakura, Japan. Sent by Ishii's friend, the Rev. Jin Arai, the small cranes and a large white origami crane had arrived on Sept. 6.

Other banners with messages of peace and support decorated Metropolitan-Duane's sanctuary, with markers available for people to express their thoughts. The church's Spanish-speaking prayer partner, Elizabeth Keppis, had created one of the newer banners, which listed the names of all the World Trade Center victims within the outlines of the twin towers.

Near the tip of Manhattan, a lone bagpiper, Donal Morrissey, led the processional of the United Methodist New York Conference afternoon service at John Street. "Oh God, whose love is beyond our total understanding, we've come here this day, in the shadow of towers that no longer stand, to remember the horror that intruded itself into our lives one year ago," said John Street's pastor, the Rev. James McGraw, as he led the unison prayer.

Among the liturgists was Christine Lee, a Board of Global Ministries executive, who read Romans 8:31-39. Although she didn't speak about it during the service, Lee had just come from the city's memorial observance for families at Ground Zero. Her sister, Nancy Yuen Ngo, was working on a high floor in the trade center on the day of the attacks.

But New York Bishop Ernest Lyght spoke, and even as he paid tribute to the victims and rescuers, he reminded worshippers that they were not there "to hold a funeral service" but to move forward from this anniversary with faith.

"We must remember 9-11, but somehow we must help each other through the difficulty and the pain we've experienced, to move on to a new place," he said.

Despite their symbolic value, whether as a marker of power or a marker of the U.S. landscape, "hope did not die when the towers crashed to the earth," the bishop pointed out. The beams of light temporarily cast into the night sky last spring as a tribute "surely were symbolically beams of hope," he said.

One "good result of a horrible event," Lyght said, has been the necessity of recognizing that Muslims are members of the community in many parts of the United States. He also spoke with pride about participating in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium immediately after Sept. 11 with those of many different faiths.

The bishop reminded participants that Christians are called upon to love, no matter what the circumstances. "It isn't easy to love when you're under attack," he acknowledged. "It isn't easy to love when you're fearful the attack will come. Yet only love will overcome hatred."

# # #

*Bloom is news director of United Methodist News
Service's New York office.

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