Paul Cartwrightreports on the memorial services for the tenth anniversary of the attacks, and reflects on the need for Christians to support those affected by such tragedies
‘I am missing you so much I’m actually crying right now.’
Thiswas a text message which I received on the morning of Sunday 9/11 while I was preparing to go to the British Memorial Garden at Hanover Square, New York. I had gone there as a musician with the West Yorkshire Police Band who had been asked to take part in the British Memorial Service for those who had died in the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001, and the text was from my sevenyear-old son Ben (via his mother’s phone) after he had watched some of the repeated coverage of the attacks. For Ben, he thought that the coverage on television was live and that New York was not a safe place for his daddy to be, and for those of us who were in New York it almost felt that it was the case due to the massive increase in security.
Active Christian witness
Travelling to New York and taking part in the five days of concerts and remembrance services was a great honour, especially as I was also there as a Chaplain to West Yorkshire Police. To be alongside the members of the band and several hundred other police employees and volunteers who had travelled from the UK at their own expense was a great opportunity to show an active Christian witness and to minister to people in a situation which was quite unique, and yet, was very real. Grief is not confined by time and knows no bounds and modern media means that even those who witness such events from afar do so in real time.
The day after our arrival the band travelled to Hackensack, New Jersey, to take part in a concert for the community, its police service and our own British bobbies who had arrived earlier in the day, and it was while I was preparing to go onto stage that I was called out of the dressing room to meet the local police chaplain who was taking part in a guard of honour at the beginning of the concert. He was dressed in his ceremonial police uniform with little gold crosses on each side of his shirt collar and a pistol on his belt (I wondered what his Baptist church congregation thought whenever they saw their minister dressed in this way).
‘It’s great to meet a British police chaplain,’ he said as I was introduced, ‘I wonder, will you lead us in prayer?’ This was the beginning of my public duties in New York as a chaplain and musician during the trip when I led the prayers for both the living and the dead who had been
caught up in the terrorist activities, and there was a sense that this was not vicarious religion; it was religion that through the outpouring of God’s grace upon those present gave comfort to those who needed it.
This comfort was certainly needed when during the introduction to the concert we heard from and met three police officers who had been caught up in the collapse of the Twin Towers. They had only survived because they had managed to find a place of safety to hide, one of whom had dived down the steps of the subway to escape the rubble which was chasing him. As they spoke and briefly told their stories there was a genuine gratitude for the support that they had received from the countless millions of people throughout the world as well as those present, and there was still real emotion in their voices. For them, this was as live today as it was ten years ago.
Paying their respects
This was a theme which was to continue throughout my time in the Big Apple. As we made arrangements to march the British contingent across the Brooklyn Bridge a message came through that we would be unable to do this as we were viewed as too much of a terrorist target following some intelligence that had been received from a credible source. Police road blocks were on every corner, but this didn’t keep the thousands of people from paying their respects for those who had been killed.
At Ground Zero the focus of people’s grief, thoughts and prayers centred on St Paul’s Chapel, the rear of which faces Church Street next to the World Trade Centre site. People who had visited the area wrote messages on white ribbons which were tied to the railings of the church yard as well as on a large bell within the grounds and one of these messages summed up perfectly the thoughts and feelings of those who were paying their respects and it simply said ‘Peace – they are one with God and never forgotten’.
Those who survived or mourned the death of a loved one continued to put their trust in God, and continued to pray both publicly and privately. Even the memorial in the 10th Company Fire Station House at the side of the Old World Trade Centre, where some of the first fire officers to respond to the tragedy were based, had two votive lamps burning brightly at the side of the memorial inside the station. This was true anamnesis and this continued to the British Memorial Service on 9/11.
Prayer and reflection
The mood in the memorial garden was reflective and many tears were shed not only by the family members, but by those who had attended the memorial or were even just passing and stopped to pay their respects. They were shed for those who worked in the towers as well as the first responders who were killed as they went to help, while others ran in the opposite direction in fear, and it is right that we continue to remember those whose lives were changed forever on that terrible day.
A central role
Seeing how people have responded to the anniversary and how they have turned to the Church for comfort, it is plain to see that we as Christians have a central role in supporting those affected by such tragedies. Throughout the Church’s own history it has had to live with the effects of violence, where its members have been killed due to what they have believed, but yet it has always grown stronger as a result. Humanity has always been broken, and it can only be healed through the love of God, that free love which is outpoured upon all of us. Terrorism and the fear of terrorism is still alive and thriving today, but so are Love, Faith and Hope (you only have to look at the 9/11 memorials to see this) and it is through this that we shall all one day be healed.
One emergency service memorial which I saw read ‘All gave some, some gave all’, and although it is referring to those first responders who died in the attacks, it could as equally apply to the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as through his death and resurrection all are forgiven, healed, and made whole. Christ offers his hand of friendship to all people regardless of difference and especially to those who are vilified and in need of forgiveness, and if we are able to do the same then we all can go a long way to helping heal the broken society in which we often find ourselves.ND
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