I write this on September 11, 2015, the 11th anniversary of 9/11. I opened Facebook this morning, as I always do after reading my emails, to find a flood of commemorative postings urging us to never forget. The events of that tragic day have become a symbol, evoking the kind of generalized response that phrases like “Remember the Alamo” call forth. When we read them, we think of the big picture – a nation under attack, evil abroad, the fear that we are not safe. But we sometimes forget the individual details and what the experience must have been like for the people who were there.
I went to graduate school in Austin, Texas. Friends and I would occasionally drive to San Antonio for a break. The first time I was there, we visited the Alamo. All I could think of on the way was hokey John Wayne movies and bad acting. “Ooh, we’re going to visit the Alamo. Whoopee,” I thought. There was a slight hint of irony and cynicism. But then we got there. The Alamo – or the mission church from which the defenders made their last stand – is tiny. And there are bullet holes remaining in the walls. It was the bullet holes that made it real for me. When I saw them, the cynicism went away, and all I could think about was the people who waited there in that tiny, tiny building, being shot at by the besiegers. It made it instantly real and very personal for me.
My response to the 9/11 commemorations is very similar, minus the cynicism. It has been labeled and boxed. It’s “9/11,” no longer the day when people ran down the streets of New York to escape the enormous cloud of smoke and dust from the collapsed buildings or jumped out of windows to make one last, desperate attempt to survive. No, it’s “9/11,” the symbol of the national rather than the personal.
I have a friend who is an Episcopal priest who served as an interim at my church last year. In 2001, he was an associate rector at Trinity Wall Street. He was riding the subway, on his way to work, when the first plane struck. He was interviewed by WRAL in Raleigh last year about his experience. The interview can be seen here.
Like the bullet holes in the walls of the Alamo, my friend’s experience has become my image of 9/11. It’s not a nation under attack – it’s desperate, terrified people in a church, singing hymns and listening to foundational readings of our beliefs, finding refuge and being given solace by my friend and his fellow ministers, including the organist. It’s not a foreign evil striking at our nation’s heart – it’s people banding together to help those in trouble, like the incredible actions of firefighters and police officers risking their lived to rescue people. It’s individual people at their very best, being tested and rising to the challenge despite the risks to their own safety.
So what does this have to do with the Moravian Ministries Foundation? I think a lot of times people focus on the money aspect of what we do. Yes, we handle money for the Church. But, in the forefront of our minds, we always have the second word of our name. What we do is a ministry, and it’s one that we all take very personally. The money that we handle is not what’s important; what’s important is what that money can do.
Even when we don’t have crazy people flying planes into buildings, we have challenges in our lives. Bigger ones, smaller ones – they’re all challenges. Our churches and church communities help us meet those challenges. The money we handle helps those churches continue to be a refuge for people who need them. It helps feed the hungry, succor the sick, and comfort the troubled. It is an honor for me to be even a small part of that ministry.