We Americans have an interesting way of setting things in context. When reflecting on major historical occurrences we will say something like “I remember where I was when I heard that…” This is our way of saying that the event made such an impact that it is indelibly etched in our memories.
How many of us know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001?
Virtually everyone I’ve talked with over the past five years has vivid recollections. Most also report that they were glued to their televisions, watching “wall-to-wall” news coverage for days afterwards. I remember sitting in my chair watching these dramatic stories unfold and thinking that it was all happening within a very short distance from where I was. The range of emotions I was experiencing was incredible. I kept thinking: There must be something I can do.
Not long after the rescue efforts became recovery efforts the Salvation Army, which did a stellar job in responding to the scene in New York City, reported that their chaplaincy staff was being stretched beyond its capacities. They told authorities that there was a need for additional chaplains to provide immediate relief. They also needed to augment their staff for the long haul.
The Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia responded to this need. Through the capable leadership of then Executive Director Fred Honigman an ancillary relief effort was launched. He contacted media outlets in Philadelphia who assisted him in putting out an urgent call for clergy with the appropriate skill sets and training to serve as chaplains at Ground Zero to contact the Chapel. I responded. Shortly thereafter, I was privileged to be selected to become part of this group.
We were rushed through appropriate refresher courses in trauma counseling, critical incident stress management and vicarious traumatization, to name a few. To the best of my recollection, members of this group were serving at Ground Zero by late September. My first opportunity to serve was in early October. For a period of about eight months members of the Chapel of Four Chaplains documented four thousand hours of service at Ground Zero in New York City. The Chapel is currently in the process of developing a national organization designed to provided disaster chaplaincy services.
I’ve not said or written a lot about my involvement in this work, mainly because I do not want to be seen as one who would seek to capitalize on the traumatic experiences of others. I see this as completely inappropriate. Besides, in comparison to what others who were there day-in-and-day-out, my experiences are actually not that compelling. On the first anniversary of 9/11 I did compile an essay titled From Ground Zero. You can read these thoughts by clicking here. The photograph you see on this page is one that I took when my family visited the site in April of 2003.
Recently, the Christian Chronicle ran an article in their “features” section which touches on my work at Ground Zero. Erik Tryggestad is the author of this piece. One of my blogging friends encouraged me to post a link to this article. He said, “May I suggest you blog that link on your website? In that way your visitors can get to know you more personally.” So, at the suggestion of my buddy Mark, you can access this article by clicking here.
As I think of all of the things that have transpired over the past five years, my heart remains heavy. There is so much strife in the world. There are so many who harbor so much anger towards others. I often reflect on the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and echo these sentiments in my prayers. Here we read: “1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
In addition, a prayer recently crossed my desk that seems to speak to the need of our time. The author is unknown. The idea behind it is in my estimation in harmony with God’s will. I call it A Prayer for Humanity. If it expresses the desire of your heart I invite you to pray this prayer along with me and millions of others:
A PRAYER FOR HUMANITY
May God lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
May God lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
May God lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
May God fill our hearts, our world,
and our universe with peace.
© Bill Williams
September 8, 2006