NEW YORK (ABP) — As the calendar pages turn inexorably toward Sept. 11, New York City is preparing for a flood of solemn remembrance prompted by the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack that claimed 3,000 lives and launched a decade of angst and uncertainty in the world’s most typically resilient nation.
To douse the potential for the anniversary to ignite a new wave of anti-Muslim flame groups like Prepare New York and churches in such far away corners as Norman, Okla., and Atlanta are planning special events to bring diverse people together, rather than letting solitary remembrances drive deeper stakes of isolation and anger.
Prepare New York is a coalition of New York-based interfaith organizations, which have joined to help create a city-wide climate that promotes healing and reconciliation in anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and 9/11 Community for Common Ground Initiative are advisers.
The coalition formed in part in response to the controversy stemming from the potential building of a mosque near “ground zero” in the summer of 2009. Members want to shift the discussion from fear and mistrust to a celebration of “New York’s extraordinary diversity of religious freedom and expression.”
Prepare New York is trying to organize at least 500 “coffee table conversations” or “facilitated dialogues” in which members of widely diverse communities can hear, share and reflect.
Presenters will be available who can speak from many perspectives, including Muslims and Sikhs who experience misplaced blame in popular culture and media; first responders, people who lost family members, survivors of 9/11 and religious leaders with extensive interfaith involvement.
In a Prepare New York-sponsored Internet chat Aug. 2, Madison Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Susan Sparks said she hopes that activities surrounding the anniversary “drive us to hold tighter and truer to the core of our religious beliefs: love thy neighbor as thyself. That means sometimes educating our self about our neighbor, engaging our neighbor in conversation, food, comfort and prayer.”
Alan Sherouse, pastor of Metro Baptist Church in New York City, said he hears little conversation about the 9/11 anniversary. When it does come up, he said, it’s by “those who feel the responsibility to create something meaningful around it.”
Sherouse was a 21-year-old college student in Florida on that day, but he said his church’s response to the tragedy and the experiences of its members “is very much one of the formative stories that’s told around here.”
Metro is planning a remembrance service for story telling and to provide “space for remembering what was lost and of the ways that event shaped our identity as a city and as a congregation.”
“Anniversaries are important for that reason,” he said. “They ask us to take time out that we might not take otherwise.”
Sherouse, Metro pastor for two years, finds visitors more interested than locals in 9/11 events and in “ground zero.” He surmises that New Yorkers are typically just too busy to think very far ahead about the 9/11 anniversary.
Kathryn Palen, pastor of Central Baptist Church, an American Baptist Church in Jamestown, R.I., said her congregation will participate in an “interfaith service of remembrance and hope.” The planning committee emerged from an interfaith clergy group that's been meeting for more than 30 years.
“During the 9/11 service, we want to remember the losses of 10 years ago and the pain many still experience, but we also want to focus on the hope that we believe our faith — in all its different expressions — offers,” she said.
Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta is participating in a memorial observance organized for all the area churches by Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, which has erected a memorial to those killed on that day.
In Norman, Okla., NorthHaven Church Pastor Mitch Randall will participate in an evening interfaith event that includes Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Imad Enchassi, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.
In the online chat with Prepare New York, Sparks quoted author Peggy Noonan who said, “We all weep in the same language.” Sparks, also a stand up comic and author of Laugh Your Way to Grace , said: “We also laugh in the same language. I am hopeful that this anniversary will be a time that the weeping will begin to transform into hope. If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself, and if you can forgive yourself you can forgive others.”
“My parents were big believers in leaving things better than you found them," Sparks said. “Early on that meant my room. But now I see a bigger picture. We need to leave things better than we found them — our families, our friends, our communities, our neighbors, our mother earth — and this anniversary is a way to heal and to leave each other stronger and more solid.”
Norman Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.