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National church coordinates chaplaincy response to terrorist attacks

By Francis C. Zanger
2001-285
10/3/2001
[Episcopal News Service]  The men and women who worked at New York's World Trade Center and at the Pentagon--those personally affected by the terrorist attacks on September 11--commute from the surrounding communities. Some churches on commuter rail lines, although far from Ground Zero, have been dealing with the carnage and much of the counseling load is falling to local clergy.

The response of the Episcopal Church at the national level is being coordinated by the office of Bishop George Packard, head of the office of Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries (ASHAPM). He has declared a 100-Day Support Mission as part of the Episcopal Church's response to provide support to dioceses and parishes throughout the regions surrounding the areas of attack. The ASHAPM office brought together a Critical Incident Response team of experts from around the country to train clergy from those most affected. The team helps those who must deal with traumatic stress, grief and loss in the wake of the tragedy.

During the week of September 16, for example, team members taught workshops for clergy in Dobbs Ferry/Westchester County, Staten Island, Fishkill and the Bronx--all part of the Diocese of New York--and at the headquarters for the Diocese of New Jersey in Trenton, as well as the Clergy Day in the Diocese of Connecticut. The following week they offered classes at St. Paul's Church in Patterson and Calvary in Summit, both in the Diocese of Newark, as well as St. Alban's in Washington, DC and the Northern Virginia Clericus. The third week will include sessions in the Dioceses of Long Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In addition to the workshops, the team has prepared special liturgies for parishes to adapt for memorial services, including suggestions for readings and hymns--including a new hymn written about the terrorist attacks by the Rev. Carl Daw, executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, to commemorate the attacks; Prayers for the People in Time of National Crisis and Threat of War by Brother Tobias Haller BSG. Navy chaplain Francis Zanger has also written a new verse for the Navy Hymn, 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save' (Melita).

Members of the Critical Incident Response Team include the Rev. Mike Carr and the Rev. Babs Meairs, chaplains at Veteran's Hospitals in Detroit and San Diego; the Rev. Mike Stewart, who was an Army Medical Service Corps officer before retiring to Iowa; the Rev. Jacqueline Means, director of prison ministries, and the Rev. David Henritzy, director of healthcare ministries in Packard's office; the Rev. Francis Zanger, a Navy and sheriff's office chaplain in the state of Washington; the Rev. Hilary Bercovici, a parish priest and former paramedic in New York City; and the Rev. Charles Flood of Philadelphia, a specialist in trauma care and a national representative of the American Red Cross. They were joined by David Knowlton, a firefighter from Pennington, New Jersey, and Al Szigethy, an officer with the Huntington First Aid Squad and one of the first to respond to the attack on the World Trade Center.

In addition to the classes and workshops being offered by Packard's office, team members have been providing chaplaincy at Ground Zero in St. Paul's Chapel, part of Trinity Parish Wall Street. It is being used as a refuge and relaxation site for emergency workers and volunteers. The chaplains also work at the temporary morgue and at the Seamen's Church Institute, a 24-hour canteen for those involved in rescue efforts.

Packard and several members of his staff--Jackie Means and Gerald Blackburn, director for armed services ministry--have been involved in chaplaincy at Ground Zero since shortly after the September 11 attack and are coordinating volunteer efforts for the Episcopal Church Center which has had volunteer clergy and lay chaplains serving at St. Paul's, the Seamen's Church Institute, and also teams distributing food and water at the site.

The focus has been on the integration of the institutional-level chaplaincies coordinated by the church's office. This involvement, along with the involvement of those dioceses most directly affected, will continue throughout the 100-Day Support Mission.

--(Bishop Packard's office at the Church Center has numerous resources available for those confronted by the terrorist attacks. They can be accessed and downloaded from the office's web site at www.episcopalchurch.org/chaplain/ More material is being added daily.)