Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflections on 9/11: An Experience of Pain & Grace

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Phillips
Rector, St. Francis Church,
 Rio Rancho, NM

As soon as I got the news in the rectory of my parish in Rhode Island, I thought of the 15 thousand students arriving for classes at the university next door- a big portion of them from New York and New Jersey - hearing about the cataclysm on the car radio or seeing the images on the TVs in the lobby as they arrived. It was hard to leave my church and trust members to care for one another as some came to pray or check in, but the greatest need seemed to be with young people, many unable to reach their families. That evening I and some staff from the Multi Cultural Center gathered students for a candlelight march across campus - we thought we might gather a few dozen, but as we began passing out candles and walking, hundred of students and others came to join us. We finished up at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church - over 200 students crammed into our post-and-beam sanctuary for a non-denominational prayer service, some literally climbing into the rafters to find space - and we prayed and lots stood up to offer their hopes and fear, prayers and wishes for those in harm's way and for the peace of the whole world as well.

A couple of weeks later I took a bus down to NYC to take part in the wonderful St. Paul's/Trinity Wall Street/ St. John the Divine volunteer ministry effort at Ground Zero. I remember the great gentleness of those who gathered at St. Paul's to offer ministry through the many days and nights as workers recovered remains and cleared debris bit by bit. As one of many clergy who came to minister and pray there, I was touched by the children's drawings for safety workers, hung in the pews to comfort those who stopped in to pray or get food or a change of socks, or even sleep for a little while. I remember the tired grimy faces and the boots melted into holes, and the crowd of faces on flyers and photos hung on the wrought iron fence by desperate people missing loved ones. I remember an exhausted bulldozer driver catching a nap in the pew with the plaque that said George Washington used to sit there. I remember the spectral and sad paper and scraps hanging from the trees in the graveyard from which the leaves had mostly been blasted away. It was an experience of pain and grace, and I was humbled by those colleagues who were laboring day after day not just to care for workers and stunned residents of the neighborhood, but also to the endless shifts of volunteers who came to offer their briefer labor each of whom carried away a fragment of the grief of the place and time. I remain grateful for and to them.

Integriity USA welcomes your reflections on 9/11. Send them to Louise Brooks, Director of Communications;

No comments: