9-11 and the Faith Community

Ten years ago I was serving as pastor of First Christian Church of Santa Barbara.  I was also the President of the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association.  Our interfaith clergy group sought to respond to the tragedy of 9-11 by providing a service of healing and remembrance.  I wrote a piece for the local paper inviting the community to gather in prayer the following Sunday.  It was a powerful service, which included voices from across the faith community.  Perhaps most important was the word offered by the local Imam, who over time became my friend.  

As we near this important anniversary I would like to share some of my writings and sermons that were spurred by that event.  The first piece is this editorial piece that the Santa Barbara News Press published in the days following the tragic events of ten years ago.  I should note that in the community of Troy, where I now serve as pastor, there will be a service of remembrance, that the local clergy group is sponsoring.

May these words help you begin drawing your thoughts together as we move toward Sunday's observance.


Tuesday's tragic events have shaken the foundations of our lives.  We feel pangs of grief and anger.  For those in our community who had co-workers, friends, or relatives on the planes or in the stricken buildings, this is especially true.  As a nation, and as a community, we cry out to God, asking why has this happened?  The answer to that question is a complex one, a question that requires considerable thought and prayer to answer.  

The words of the Psalmist state well our feelings at this time:
"My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come  upon me, and horror overwhelms me.  And I say, `O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest;  truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;  I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest'." (Psalm 55:4-8, NRSV).
We feel unsafe and insecure.  We feel angry and aggrieved.  Like the psalmist, we find ourselves overwhelmed by many different feelings, including guilt, and we find it difficult to sort them out.  We want to flee from the cause of our terror, and so we seek to hide in our homes, afraid to venture out and risk our lives;  and yet we also hear from our own lips, calls for revenge and retaliation.  Some of us have already begun to point fingers and seek out scapegoats, blaming the entire Islamic community for the deeds of some militants, who do not act in accord with their own teachings, and this is both unfortunate and unwarranted.   As our government sorts out the details, it is important that we as American people support and console each other, and not let a thirst for revenge taint our sorrow.  

Although the religious community does not speak with one voice, as our theologies and values often differ, we are joined in a common concern for the loss of life and a collective loss of security and safety that is the aftermath of Tuesday morning.  We find our vulnerability unsettling, and consequently, we have been and will continue to come together in our various houses of worship to pray for the victims and their families.  From our pulpits and in our study groups, we will consider the causes and the solutions.   Therefore, we must come together and support each other, whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, Hindu or Humanist; at a time like this, our differences matter less.  It is for this reason that the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association, an interfaith organization of area clergy, whose members cross the spectrum of the community's religious groups, is offering this Sunday evening, at 6:00 p.m., a Service of  Remembrance and Prayer, that will allow the community as a whole to pray and reflect, grieve and find comfort.  The service will be held at First United Methodist Church (Anapamu at Garden).

In our prayers we reach out to those who have lost loved ones and we release their memories into God's care.  We also pray for peace in our world, for it is the lack of peace that gives rise to such events.  What we experienced writ large Tuesday morning, happens daily around the world.  Our grief must also include a search for reconciliation and the proclamation of peace among all peoples of the world.

The Rev. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
President, Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association


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