Dear Colleagues and Coworkers of the United Church of Christ:
Just about everyone can remember where they were the morning of September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. As New York Conference Minister, I was scheduled to preach in New York City the following Sunday. Since all of the United States was a no-fly zone, I took the long drive through the Catskills. Needless to say the drive gave me plenty of time to think.
When I arrived, the congregation had gathered as usual on that Sunday morning. Not surprisingly, most of the folks were still in a state of shock. There was an abiding atmosphere of sadness and grieving, yet another emotion that I had not anticipated was the presence of deep gratitude. It was beginning to dawn on many of those at worship, including me, that as devastating and shocking as the attacks were, there was reason to be thankful that the tragedy could have been even greater. This awareness was accompanied by the stories of individuals who worked near the World Trade Center and could have lost their lives, but for various reasons were not there that fateful morning. Many more were grateful that, for the moment, the danger had passed. Even in the midst of mourning, our thanksgiving to God was fervent and deeper than usual.
Now, almost ten years have passed. For some who experienced personal loss, the pain still feels as acute as if it happened yesterday. For others, there is emotional distance from the horror of that day, yet reverberations remain. Mere mention of the date September 11th churns up feelings and distinct memories. During these years our country has engaged in two long wars attributed in part to the events of September 11th. Most recently, the U.S. military apprehended and killed Osama bin Laden, the person who took credit for orchestrating the attacks of September 11th.
The pain and suffering that we as Americans associate with terrorism began that day and has continued ever since. For that reason the date is etched in our nation’s collective consciousness. However, it is important to note that for others around the world, that day is the day we experienced the degree of pain other nations and peoples have experienced far longer. September 11th was a day the tragedies of the world came to our shores.
As we approach this anniversary of our national tragedy, my prayer is that we do so recognizing that our national understanding of and response to terrorism have been inadequate thus far. If anything, some actions and policies of our government—from the crimes of Abu Ghraib, to Guantanamo Bay and the human toll referred to as “collateral damage”—have inspired more people to take up arms against the U.S. We are still challenged to perceive “the other” more fairly, and to pursue true security more faithfully. General Synod’s recent resolution “On Actions of Hostility Against Islam and the Muslim Community” urges us to build relationships of trust and understanding with our neighbors rather than be led by our fears and prejudices. My hope is that we use this anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on these ten years, the years of America’s longest war, and begin to chart a new direction.
Our gathering as a UCC church in Queens, NY on that first Sunday after September 11th, 2001 was a moment in time filled with regret and grief. It was also tinged with hope emanated from thanksgiving to our living, loving and merciful God. Perhaps that is who we turn to and where we start as we contemplate beginning anew our work toward God’s just and peaceful realm “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Peace and blessings,
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black