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Episcopalians, Anglicans join in worldwide commemorations of terrorist attacks

By Jan Nunley
[Episcopal News Service]  Messages of peace and exhortations to patriotism vied for attention at September 11 commemorations in Episcopal churches across the country and Anglican congregations across the world.

Many congregations marked the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the hijacking of four U.S. airliners with candlelight vigils, the tolling of bells and reading of the names for each of the more than 3,000 victims. Some participated in a 'rolling requiem' presentation of Mozart's classic work in 20 of the world's 25 time zones, which began at the International Dateline in Auckland, New Zealand, and terminated in American Samoa in the Pacific. Others watched video documentaries about the ministry of St. Paul's Chapel near Ground Zero in New York. Still others joined members of other denominations and faiths for interfaith gatherings that featured readings from the Bible, the Qur'an, and other sacred works.

More than 3,000 white rose petals fluttered from the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London to symbolize each of the victims of the attacks, including a former St. Paul's head choirboy who perished at the World Trade Center that day. A British Union Jack recovered from Ground Zero draped the altar. Prince Charles joined his son Prince Harry and British prime minister Tony Blair as a New York police officer lit a solitary candle.

'They didn't break us'

At the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa praised the U.S. for the 'extraordinary courage and selflessness demonstrated at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and elsewhere, even on the doomed flights.'

But Tutu also warned a congregation that included Attorney General John Ashcroft that 'the war against terrorism cannot be won unless the war against poverty, against disease, against ignorance is won--all those things that can make people desperate.' Ashcroft was also among those who read the names of the dead aloud during a day-long ritual.

At the 'Church of the Presidents,' St. John's in Lafayette Square, former White House communications aide Karen Hughes, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, and Kathleen Card, wife of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, served as lectors. St. John's rector, the Rev. Luis Leon, told the congregation that while the attacks were horrendous they 'didn't break us.' The sermon, which included prayers for his leadership, appeared to move President George W. Bush to tears.

Faded flag

In Boston, where both of the doomed Trade Center-bound flights originated, a rabbi and an imam shared a hymnal at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to sing 'America.' At Trinity Church in Copley Square, 1400 worshipers were called to prayer by the chanting of a muezzin, the blowing of a shofar, and a group of trumpeters playing 'Taps.'

A flag presented to the widow of a World War II veteran, displayed since the Sunday after the attacks on the front porch of the rectory at Grace Episcopal Church in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was officially retired by a color guard of police and firefighters. Its red, white and blue have faded to 'pink, gray and lavender,' according to the parish's rector, the Rev. Charles Hoffman.

What are thought to be the oldest bells on the North American continent--1,187 years old--were sounded at St. Stephen's in East Haddam, Connecticut, at the moments when airplanes flew into both Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field, and at the moments when each of the towers collapsed.

Rebuilding, not retribution

At St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida, those attending morning and evening services were marked on their foreheads with ashen crosses--a practice normally reserved for Ash Wednesday, at the start of Lent. At Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, the Ground Zero documentary prompted the Rev. Rick Westbury, associate rector, to remark, '[St. Paul's Chapel] became almost like a spiritual MASH unit. To me, it was a microcosm of what the church ought to be today.'

In St. Petersburg, Florida, volunteers kneeling in front of the altar at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter read the name of each of the 3,025 victims of the attacks. The reading took more than seven hours, as the darkened sanctuary was open all day to the public. Reading the list was important, said volunteer Lynn Webb. 'People need to be remembered with more than a number,' she said. 'It's important to say their names and to remember them individually.'

At a memorial service that followed, Bishop John B. Lipscomb of Southwest Florida preached at the same pulpit on the same topic as he did exactly one year ago. His message was also similar: The nation must focus on rebuilding, not retribution.

'This nation must first seek to be a peace-building nation and a reconciler of peoples rather than the purveyor of destruction. We worry about a nation that may have weapons of mass destruction and yet we are one of those nations. We worry about what they may do with them; we are the only nation that has ever used them.

'I wonder if it is time for us to confess our sins; to seek the world's forgiveness in a spirit of reconciliation that will that mean those who died on September 11 truly will not have died in vain.'

God 'always comes back to us'

In Dallas, students at the Episcopal School of Dallas heard the story of Mitch, a Golden Retriever dog that served a blind man named John who worked on the south tower of the World Trade Center from the Rev. K. Michael Harmuth, a former FBI chaplain who worked at Ground Zero. 'Every day Mitch led John from their home to elevator three of the World Trace Center and then up to the 74th floor,' said Harmuth at memorial services in All Saints Chapel. 'On the day the plane hit the 79th floor of the South Tower, John and Mitch were already at work. Because he couldn't see, John felt he had no chance to escape. But he didn't want Mitch to die, too, so John threw him into the mass of humanity streaming down the corridor to the stairs. For awhile Mitch was trapped by the mass of people and could not reverse direction.

'But he eventually fought and clawed his way back up the corridor to find his master John. He went up to John and nudged him. Together--and with the help of another wonderful person who came to their rescue--they made it out in time. John was saved.

'When I think of this incident, I think of God. God is like Mitch the Golden Retriever. No matter how hard we try to shove him away, he always comes back to us.'

Harmuth brought back a piece of the one of fallen WTC towers and placed it next to a memorial from the Holocaust on the Episcopal School of Dallas campus. 'We need these symbols to help us remember how badly human beings treated each other in the 20th century and how badly they treated us other in the 21st century,' Harmuth said. 'When it comes to evil, nothing ever changes.'

'Do not be distracted by the drums of war'

With prayer, a tolling bell, ranks of votive candles and the reading of the names of the dead, St. James Cathedral in Chicago began a day of remembrance and hope in observance of the September 11th attacks. Cathedral members and diocesan staff were joined by office workers in nearby high rises as they lit votive candles arrayed on the terrace of the Episcopal Church Center plaza, and signed commemorative books. In his sermon at the noon Requiem Eucharist, Bishop William Persell urged the community to concentrate on reconciliation, peace and hope.

'Our focus must not be on war and revenge,' said Persell, 'but on reconciliation among all nations and peoples.' The cathedral's gift of hospitality this day is a reminder 'of our call to be reconcilers, to work for reconciliation,' he said.

'As the ever louder drum beats for an undefined and expanding war on terrorism summon us to invade Iraq, it would be tragic if we as Christians allowed the focus of this day to be drawn away from those who lost their livelihoods as a result of the attacks,' said Persell. 'Be prayerful and compassionate,' he said. 'Do not be distracted and led astray by the drums calling us to war.'

Birds of peace

Detroit bishop Wendell Gibbs was in the company of other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and lay people who took part in a prayer caravan, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), which headed to three schools where identical liturgies were shared. The services culminated in the planting of tulip bulbs and the release of a pair of white birds at each location.

'It has been about remembering that there is more to this world than terror and terrorists,' re-counted Gibbs as the caravan completed its last leg. 'It's about peace and it's about that fact that people can live together…Being part of all these different faith traditions praying together and hoping for peace has been so much more positive than sitting at home watching images of death and destruction. And so much more hopeful,' Gibbs said. 'Just as we [as Episcopalians] are part of a larger family of the Anglican Communion, we are also part of a larger family called the human family. The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan has to be a part of the whole community.'

March for diversity

In Salt Lake City the Episcopal Church flag was among the signs and banners carried in a 'March for Freedom, Diversity and Remembrance,' also sponsored by a local chapter of the NCCJ. About 40 parishioners, diocesan staffers and members of Integrity/Utah braved a steady evening rain to join 3,500 marchers. The destination of the mile and a half walk was a baseball park, where the Utah Symphony, several choirs, and a reading of Maya Angelou's poem 'Human Family' entertained more than 7,000 gathered.

Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish wrote in a pastoral letter that 'this anniversary also holds the danger of becoming a time to stoke our feelings of self-righteous indignation and a desire for revenge. It could, in other words, lead us to support the very kind of violence we have ourselves so recently suffered.' The pastoral letter was dated September 4, the feast of another Utah bishop, Paul Jones, forced to resign in 1918 after only four years as missionary bishop because of his pacifist views on World War I.

Candles and dove kites

A continent away from Ground Zero, members of the Church of the Good Shepherd went door to door in Berkeley, California, to invite neighborhood residents to a Wednesday evening Service of Remembrance. Three uniformed firefighters from the Berkeley Fire Department rang the church's bell at the start and at the conclusion of the service, and participated in it. The bell in the 125-year old church was originally the first fire bell in west Berkeley, and was installed in the church in 1882.

Congregants at Los Angeles' Cathedral Center illumined the pre-dawn shadows by individually placing candles in large sand-filled urns at the altar at a 5:30 a.m. service. A dove kite carried hopes for peace, and bells tolled recalling the exact moments when planes crashed during last year's September 11 terror attacks on New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania.

'September 11 changed this world,' said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of Los Angeles, in his homily for the morning. 'We can't live as violent people. We must use our hands to wage reconciliation.'

Bruno and Connecticut bishop Andrew Smith later joined some 3,000 persons assembled in the new Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for a mid-day Remembrance Service led by representatives of major faith communities in Los Angeles. The congregation was accompanied at the piano by composer Burt Bacharach.

At Pasadena's Hillsides Home for Children, whose residential and off-campus programs have served children and families at risk since 1913, the Lynn Angell Memorial Children's Library was dedicated on Sunday. Lynn Edwards Angell established a thriving library program at Hillsides in the decade before her death. Both Lynn and David Angell died after boarding Flight 11 in Boston en route to Los Angeles. Angell's mother, brother, and sister-in-law, as well as friends from the popular TV series, Frasier, of which Angell's husband, David, was a creator, were present for the dedication.