This prayer, from the Muslim tradition, is one of many – hundreds, if not thousands – that were written immediately after the events of September 11, 2001 as well as in the years since. It was a day that changed the course of lives and our country. It was also a day that impacted the sense of spirituality that all persons share as well as the work that professional chaplains and other spiritual care providers give to those experiencing disaster, chaos and trauma. This special issue of PlainViews shares the voices to all those aspects.
As you read the articles, it is our hope that you will be moved by the expressions of personal experience, the description of professional service, and the call to continually improve our practice as we engage in research, education, and program development. We also hope that you will share your responses to what you read by submitting a comment to engage in dialogue with your colleagues.
We’re gratified to have received such a large number of submissions. We cannot publish all in this already-large issue, so they will appear in future issues.
May each of us be blessed with the words of the prayers that have been written to honor the lives of September 11, and may we always choose the latter and better way.
The Rev. Dr. Walter J. Smith
During more than twenty years of association with HealthCare Chaplaincy, I have been party to many discussions among colleagues about whether chaplaincy is a job, career or vocation.
For the most part, these discussions have been somewhat academic. A job is utilitarian, undertaken to sustain one’s livelihood: to put food on the table, provide a roof overhead, pay tuition bills for children and maybe put something away for retirement.
Careerist chaplains often point to their significant investments in post-graduate formation (i.e., four completed units of CPE) and the achievement of board certification and possession of the coveted designation of “BCC.”
But vocation often goes beyond notions of job and career and looks to an alignment of one’s gifts, skills and interests with a higher life purpose.
For many chaplains who responded to the extended crisis of 9/11 on that ominous day and during the long days and nights that followed, these events were both transformative and galvanizing. They experienced their vocations as professional chaplains in ways that nothing else could have so dramatically shaped.
The sky over New York City that Tuesday morning was bright and cloudless; the air cool and fresh. In a moment, everything changed. Sirens blared, trauma centers in local hospitals went into crisis mode, a city that never stops found itself unexpectently paralyzed and its citizens temporarily dazed. In the midst of this fright and panic, our chaplains immediately joined the ranks of other “First Responders” to do what they had been trained to do: provide spiritual care in a municipal disaster. However, no one could have been sufficiently prepared for the events of 9/11.
Each one of our chaplains could fill pages in the collective memoir of that tragic day. In these few words, allow me to speak somewhat personally about how that day contributed to shaping a definition of professional chaplaincy as vocation.
My first observation is how quickly our chaplains responded to the crisis. The fact that each of the HealthCare Chaplaincy staff had completed a program in disaster intervention and had been certified by the American Red Cross says something about specialized preparedness. Our chaplains played key roles in doing what other members of the health care team could not do: they created secure places and safe ways to receive and care for survivors and for the loved ones of those who were murdered in the assault and collapse of the Twin Towers. Their communications skills were so evident in the ways they took charge of situations, provided clear direction and ministered in place to whoever needed spiritual support or nurture. They simply embodied caring and they were so effective.
Secondly, their generosity and availability further defined their vocations as chaplains. Not one of our chaplains ever spoke about compensation for the countless hours of volunteer professional service they provided in the days and weeks after 9/11. As the requests poured in for chaplains who might lead multifaith memorial services for surviving employees of Wall Street firms decimated by the World Trade Center disaster, our chaplains were ready and willing to develop these special healing services and to preside and preach. When the City needed to provide comfort care for families who were making their first accompanied, painful visits back to Ground Zero where the remains of loved ones were yet to be found, our chaplains were at their sides.
One of our chaplains spent many evenings offering counsel and consolation to New York City’s firefighters who were grieving the loss of 341 comrades and 2 paramedics. As a result of this outreach and the effectiveness of the care he provided, the Fire Department subsequently recruited him to be one of its official chaplains.
Others comforted families as the remains of loved ones were identified, returned and proper funerals were arranged.
As a pall of grief gradually enveloped an entire city, our chaplains joined with other religious leaders in ministering to a city in mourning. They gave selflessly and never paused to assess the cost.
How often chaplains exhort each other and their students to be attentive to self-care. The enduring events surrounding 9/11 quickly depleted the resources of many professional chaplains who were balancing the ordinary demands of their routine personal, familial and professional lives with these extraordinary additional burdens of care. Recognizing the dangers, our staff elevated self-care to be a community priority and were vigilant in insuring that everyone was receiving the respite and support they needed.
In a most edifying way, chaplains became chaplains to each other, and, though exhausted and spent, no one “burnt out.”
Called to care and to be cared for – the vocation of a chaplain.
On that unforgettable day ten years ago, the skies in Manhattan were changed in a moment from cerulean blue to suffocating gray. People making their quiet exodus on foot from Ground Zero were bathed in ash, bewildered by what they had experienced. Our chaplains joined their processions and entered their darkness and doubt, helping them preserve hope and deal with their grief. And in those interchanges of the hundred days that followed, chaplaincy was never defined as job or career. It was pure vocation, and each chaplain, in his or her distinctive way was discovering renewed meaning and purpose in that noble calling.
When someone first asked me what I had learned from my years of working 9/11 and its aftermath, my spontaneous response was, “Clergy lie.”
I felt terrible, I couldn’t believe I had said that. Actually, it was more like, “How dare I say that!” But upon reflection, and a lot of soul-searching, I grew to accept that, indeed, my greatest lesson is that we in the “religion business” are as human and as flawed as the next guy – and probably more so. But it is one thing to know that we are all wounded healers, consciously or unconsciously out to heal ourselves, it is quite another to be confronted daily with the consequences of such need.
What I learned from 9/11 are the things that go on behind our public face. Things we clergy would prefer not to talk about – and certainly not in relation to something as sacred as September 11, 2001.
When the tragedy occurred, I was a trained member of the national spiritual care disaster response team working in partnership with the American Red Cross. First as a Red Cross volunteer, and then in a Red Cross position funded through the generosity of Lutheran Disaster Response, I had dual responsibilities. I managed the daily, 24/7, provision of appropriate spiritual care to those devastated by the tragedy and I worked with the broader religious community to fashion a plan for long-term recovery and resilience. I “worked” 9/11 for four years.
Because it is the human way of things, tragedy brings out the best and the worst in people – and great tragedy even more so. I saw enormous courage and goodness, generosity and concern, selflessness and integrity. I would expect nothing less.
What I did not expect were some of the issues I dealt with daily. For many things, the “buck” stopped at my desk. Complaints about chaplains, whether or not deployed by me, were some of them. My desk became the repository of story after story of blatant disregard for the other, self-aggrandizement, mis-use of religious authority, insubordination, theft of ID badges, scheming, jealousy, anger, and too many instances in which the clergy-person made themselves part of the problem rather than part of the solution – to name just a few.
I can fully appreciate that some of the problematic clergy behavior was the result of honest good intentions and lack of familiarity with the para-military nature of disaster response. I am not concerned about these instances.
Rather, I learned quickly that being a disaster responder was considered sexy. It provided a huge adrenaline rush that could be addictive in its own right. Being seen at Ground Zero was even sexier.
I began to talk about the “Ground Zero Syndrome” – the almost desperate need some had to be in lower Manhattan rather than at the Family Assistance Centers where they were really needed. Various proofs of identification would disappear only to turn up later after having been used by colleagues to get past the security perimeter of the disaster site. Self-worth was defined by how high one could be witnessed relative to security restrictions and how many ID badges one had. Getting past the “perimeter” was the sought-after success. “Photo-ops” took place. Without thought to confidentiality or protocol, interviews were sought with reporters. A rip in the earth gave rise to a new kind of idolatry.
Many people calling themselves “chaplains” self-deployed – holding themselves accountable to no one. In their minds, they had a G-d-given “right” to be where they were. Proselytizing was far too common and caused more pain than I can fathom. Vulnerable individuals sometimes found themselves overwhelmed by people needing to help. Cultural and religious awareness were not concerns.
Even years later, during the fourth anniversary memorial, I was told in no uncertain terms by a chaplain that handing out bottles of water on the rim of Ground Zero was beneath him. That was not why he had signed up. He, and only he, was needed by the families down in the pit who were gathering by the footprints of the Twin Towers. He walked away from me, having been called by a greater voice.
Please understand, I, myself, was no stranger to that adrenaline rush. In certain ways and in certain times, it is necessary in order to thrive in the work. On the other hand, when I didn’t listen to my own sermon and forgot the importance of self-care, my exhaustion made it inevitable that my need to be needed took over my professional self. Sometimes recouping was easy. Sometimes I required help. I do not know why I did not become more hardened.
My second role revolved around long-term spiritual recovery in the Tri-State region.
The early months of the disaster response saw the rise of many new non-profit organizations fighting over limited resources and staking out claims for territory and souls. On an institutional level, the political machinations and manipulations by religiously motivated organizations were an eye-opener. I believe we could have accomplished more, and more quickly, if we had found a way to work together rather than frequently in opposition to each other.
And so what did my years of 9/11 teach me? It taught me that we are capable of true greatness of spirit and that we are indeed created in the Image of G-d. It reminded me daily that I, and others, are flawed and that I need to remember to see others for who they are and not for what I want them to be.
Very important, it confirmed for me the need for serious clinical training – true self awareness is not likely without it. It also emphasized the necessity for specialized training in disaster response.
Perhaps most important, I learned that in spite of everything I did not lose faith, and that given the need, I would do it again in a heart-beat.
September 11, 2001, began like any other day in a middle school of 900 students and 70 staff members. As I walked the halls before class, welcoming the students and briefly visiting teachers, it was the usual busyness of early adolescent chatter and teacher preparation.
A phone alert from the office signaled me to call. An attack on the World Trade Center was reported and parents were calling the office to see if we would continue school. It all seemed surreal--we in distant Salt Lake City being concerned about the World Trade Center, parents wondering about school continuing, and I as principal, just beginning the day that would cement itself in my memory like no other.
My secretary wheeled a TV from the library into the office and we watched in silence and horror as the events unfolded in New York, then in Washington. As I began the day, my public address system announcements included this horrific news and the invitation of teachers to tune in on the TVs in their classrooms. But a call from the superintendent’s office signaled all teachers to turn off their TVs and continue the school day as usual. In the office and teacher’s lounge, TVs remained on for the day as we witnessed the destruction and heartbreak.
Our student population, the most diverse in the state at that time, embraced adolescents of cultures, traditions and religions different from those we were used to. Refugees and immigrants from 20 countries formed our student body. We as a faculty and community worked hard at understanding new cultures and religions, beliefs, observances and celebrations.
Trickling to me that 9/11 day was questioning, disbelief, accusations and finger pointing at our Muslim students. In a meeting after school with our staff I was present for them, listened to their responses to the day’s events. I told them of my observation and falsehood of this broad generalization that all Muslims and perceived threat of Islam were to blame for the events of 9/11. I told them that in a public school we were not allowed to pray publically, but asked our staff individually to pray for our nation and our students in whatever way they chose.
I also asked them to listen to their students, reflect on what they said and respond with careful clarification. Most of all I asked them to remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This guidance helped to include all of our students in this long process of discernment and understanding the events of that day. We referred to those strategies many times in the weeks to follow.
Though I did not know it at the 9/11 day, I was destined to become a chaplain when I retired three years ago after a long career in public education. As I reflect on 9/11 and the skills and strategies used as a principal with our students and staff, I realize they are parallel to those of a chaplain: to be present, pray, listen, clarify, treat others as we wish to be treated and discern what needs must be addressed. Indeed, are those not strategies hoped for in all interactions of substance and love?
I also will think about when the time will be right for my return again to New York since that tragic day. In the meantime, the treasure chest continues to be full and the gift that it brings is a gift of healing memories and tremendous gratitude. The words of the conclusion of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero's prayer continues to bring hope:
"...We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs..." (Prophets of a Future Not Our Own)
Tim Serban is Vice President of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Washington. Tim has served in the field of Spiritual Care, Mission and Ethics for over 23 years and currently supports a team of 21 board certified chaplains and 3 therapeutic harpists. He is a board certified chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. Tim is a National Volunteer Partner and volunteer leader for the Spiritual Care Response Team of the American Red Cross in Washington D.C.
The Reverend Willard Ashley, Sr.
Supporting Religious Leaders After 9/11
September 11, 2001: Horror came to downtown New York City as an unexpected act of terrorism changed America. Ten years later we still carry intense feelings and thoughts from that day. We cannot, nor should we forget. As a native New Yorker, I knew three people who perished. The people who were killed including three I knew, the terror displayed by the media without stop, and the horrors we experienced live
will never leave my mind.
However, what I value most and gives meaning to me looking back ten years ago is how the clergy of the region came together through the “Care for the Caregivers Interfaith Project.” This project, the largest clergy support program ever run in the United States,served 7,000 caregivers over a seven-year period. It was religiously, culturally and community competent in that after 9/11, no matter where they lived, what language they spoke, what color or faith people helped people experiencing spiritual pain . This reflection is about how the project was created and what it did.
The Reverend Doctors John Hiemstra (Executive Director, Council of Churches of the City of New York)
and James Stallings (Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York) assembled the religious leaders of New York City at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem
to ask one question immediately following the tragic events of September 11, 2001: “What shall we do?” Once assembled as a group, the second question was, “Who is not at the table?” in order to ensure that all of the region’s faith communities and not just those at the table at that moment were included.
This historic set of meetings gave birth to what was called the New York Disaster Recovery Interfaith (NYDRI). Dr. Jill Schaefer was hired as the director and NYDRI was birthed by a $175,000 grant from Church World Service (CWS).
To address the question: “Who is not at the table?” five faith specific liaisons were hired to assist with recovery efforts in their communities. The goal was not to set up a permanent assistance program but simply to offer short-term crisis invention and skill building for caregivers. It was based on research that following a disaster caregivers need new skills to respond to disasters in their context. At the end of the project, the Care for the Caregivers Interfaith Project helped many clergy and their congregations experience better self-care and mental health outcomes.
The interfaith clergy of NYDRI approached the September 11th
for additional funding. While their initial request was turned down, quick interventions by the Council of Churches of the City of New York, and the Jewish Community Relations Council helped to turn “no” into “yes”. A planning grant of slightly over one million dollars was awarded.
Two staff people were hired to develop a pilot, which laid the foundation for a full-scale interfaith clergy self-care and disaster preparedness project for clergy of over 20 faith-traditions throughout the metropolitan New York area.
Given my profile as an African-American, Baptist preacher, psychotherapist and adjunct professor, the September 11th Fund strongly encouraged that NYDRI hire me as the director for this new interfaith recovery project, called, “The Care for the Caregivers Interfaith Project: A Ministry of the Council of Churches of the City of New York.” Mary Ellen Blizzard was hired as assistant project director.
A revised proposal and narrative budget were presented to The September 11th Fund on December 4, 2002. It described a comprehensive, integrated health and wellness initiative to be conducted over a two-year period in partnership with faith communities and other organizations, agencies, and community leaders throughout the metropolitan New York area.
Further revisions of the proposal included Carol North, MD and Barry Hong, PhD, developers of P-FLASH tools for recognizing and referring clients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to appropriate resources for treatment to discuss ways to adapt P-FLASH for clergy. Later in the project we added additional consultants to develop C-Flash.
The Council of Churches collaborated with the New York Board of Rabbis; the Jewish Community Relations Council; the Archdioceses of New York, Brooklyn and Queens; the Interfaith Center of New York; and the Imam’s Council in order to reach as many faith communities as possible for this project. Partners meet regularly with the Project Director and other appropriate staff to recruit clergy for the project, secure trainers, coordinate seminars, serve as faith specific liaisons, outreach to their community, prepare reports and engage in ongoing, professional guidance, consultation, and coordination.
“Self Care and Skill Building for the Clergy: A Unified Approach Project” had great success in its first two years, reaching more than 2,000 clergy in New York City and the greater metropolitan area.
. The project’s goals were accomplished in three stages:
· Goal: Teach religious leaders and caregivers how to identify and work with the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, compassion fatigue and anxiety. Stage One: C-Flash Seminars: C-FLASH (Clergy Front Line Assistance and Support for Healing) is a one day training-of-trainers seminar for clergy and other community caregiver leaders on recognizing and working with people suffering from PTSD, depression, compassion fatigue and anxiety.
· Goal: Act as a catalyst for religious leaders to take responsibility for their personal development.
Stage Two: Circles Of Life: In order to provide guidance and training over an extended period of time, Circles of Life groups are formed to provide counseling and individual follow up for clergy and community leaders as a means of addressing mental and spiritual health needs. Twenty-five groups meet for eight two-hour sessions.
· Goal: Provide ongoing support for these individuals in achieving their goals for holistic health and wellness for the benefit of the faith communities they serve.
Stage Three: Subject or Faith Specific Seminars: Recognizing that there are topics of common need, the third stage of the Project convened gatherings to address issues that arose as result of 9/11. Seminars and group gatherings were also most useful in identifying symptoms of compassion fatigue and necessary self-care disciplines along with the resources to develop community resiliency.
Hats off to the religious community for working together through the heroic stages of this disaster! My memory will be the Late Ossie Davis as our keynote speaker for our kickoff event at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the 100 voice New York Metro Mass Choir and the beautiful picture of our working together across race, gender, class and sexual orientation.
Healy, Wendy. Life Is Too Short
. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2011.
The Council of Churches of the City of New York (The Council), established in 1895, provides a network of interfaith action among the diverse faith-based traditions throughout the city with clergy, seminaries, government officials, policy-makers, local faith groups, and lay leaders. As an ecumenical non-profit organization that assists the community in working toward a just society and influencing the development of public policies and social programs that benefit the people of New York, The Council provides services and programs as needs arise in the City as it did in the 911 disaster. The Council has more than 2,000 congregations among its member Protestant and Orthodox denominations. The Council, through the Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City, which it coordinates, works with the interfaith community whose membership includes the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, the New York Board of Rabbis, and the Islamic Leadership Council.
Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, “Care for the Caregivers,” The September 11th
Final Report, page 78.
The September 11th
Fund was a short-term rapid response to September 11, 2001. The New York Community Trust and The United Way of New York City created and maintained oversight of the Fund. Once the Fund served its purposes, the American Red Cross of New York City continued some of the programs for an additional two years.
C-Flash: Clergy Frontline Assistance and Support for Healing
The Reverend Willard Ashley, Sr., is the Director of Field Education and Associate Professor of Practical Theology, New Brunswick, Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Dr. Ashley has served four congregations as senior pastor over a thirty-year period. He initiated Clinical Pastoral Education programs at Barnet Hospital, Paterson, New Jersey and Hackensack Medical Center, Hackensack, New Jersey. Will was first introduced to disaster work by the invitation of Black clergy asked for his help in Miami following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
A New York Day
Making plans with family can be a joy. I made plans to leave New Jersey early in the morning and head for the Borough Park section of Brooklyn to pick up daughter-in-law Amy, along with my grandchildren. We planned to drive into Manhattan. As typical, my son Seth had already left for work in lower Manhattan.
What a glorious, bright, sunny day to make that morning trek. The air was crisp, the day peaceful. I arrived at their home, they packed into my car and off we went. I decided to take the Brooklyn Bridge – my favorite bridge in the world!! As we approached the last exit before being compelled to actually be on the bridge, Amy noticed dark smoke in the sky off to the right. We sighed with disgust at the dark cloud and assumed it was merely pollution. Our sigh instantly turned to a shrill “WHAT?” - as, in disbelief, we witnessed the second plane hit the second tower.
What was that? What just happened? What is going on? What did we just see? I am not adventurous. I am a chicken. I have absolutely not one brave bone in my entire body. My one reaction to fear and danger: RUN!!! My gut feeling was to turn the car around ASAP and immediately head back to Borough Park. My instinct did not allow me to drive one foot farther towards the bridge to Manhattan.
While making the drive back, we listened to the radio, hoping for definitive answers – but at that early hour, about 9 AM, none were forthcoming. By the time we arrived back in their neighborhood – papers were swirling everywhere: in the air, on the ground, and around everyone walking by. The sky was dark. The surroundings took on the air of a surreal science fiction movie. Dust clouds and debris filled the space in front of our eyes and as far as we could see. Shirts and sweaters were stretched up to cover mouths and noses as to not inhale the thick unknown particulate matter.
TV special broadcasts repeated that the bridges, tunnels and trains were not to be used. Cell phones were of no use. Like everyone else, we were not sure of anything.
About 12:30, I walked over to the next block. People were congregating on the corner, at the pizza store. The crowd was rather quiet, scared, and filled with uncertainty. The chatter was disconcerting but in a way - uplifting. The store workers appeared to be a mix of foreigners as were the clientele... A Middle Eastern man, an Asian woman and some Afro-American older teens. The fear was palpable. The fear amongst all these people was universal. Everyone was visibly upset. YET, how American - that all these various peoples, all living together in this neighborhood - all feeling the hurt and anger of what they came to learn, as the TV on the counter recounted the events and what had been perpetrated against the U.S.
Back in the apartment I came to realize that a 5-year-old does not necessarily understand “instant replay”. Each time a news report replayed footage of the planes hitting the towers – he believed another building was hit. All buildings - every building - Instant Replay! Incomprehensible! How does one comfort a small child that is bewildered, frightened and absolutely perplexed amidst all the uncertainty that even the adults felt? Nothing familiar to draw upon for help! His mom was of course present but also unnerved, and mostly silent as she watched the TV reports. How can one assure a mom with any real assurance that her children in this tall apartment house were safe?
My son was unable to reach us by phone, and we could not reach him. Where was he? How was he? Was his place of business affected too? Since he worked not far from what became known as Ground Zero - we were very worried and distracted. Additionally, as I couldn't reach my husband back in New Jersey and since all modes of transportation were closed, I couldn't go home.
I made my way to a part of Brooklyn called Marine Park. My high school friend lives there and, having gone to her house, we met up and went to have dinner at a local restaurant. Strangely enough, the restaurant we choose, overlooking the bay had a view of the NY skyline. From our seats we could see the towers smoking and the dark clouds hanging about. By now we knew people had died on impact, had jumped from the top floors, others seriously burned, and many had grave injuries. So, it was eerie, grotesque and freakish to be eating dinner while watching our city burn. We didn't have a fiddle but like Nero - we watched. It was another experience of the surreal. My friend was visibly upset, worried and anxious.
The discussion on what to make of all this, how to deal with it, what to do tomorrow – go to work like nothing happened? What response is in order? All night we talked. Comfort and caring, and listening and hugs were overflowing.
Later that night, I learned that my son (TG) was OK – he made it home by evening to be with family, I heard from my hubby, and I had my friend's hospitality for the night. Some semblance of tranquility!
When I returned home to NJ, I learned many pertinent (family) details of the prior day:
· My husband Steve, an EMT, along with his squad were activated to be at Liberty Park, NJ to be available to assist with the injured ferried over the Hudson Bay from Ground Zero.
· My son Seth, an EMT, along with his co-worker (also an EMT) were escorted by police over to Ground Zero to treat the injured. He spent the entire day there doing all he could to be of service. A Hatzola ambulance gave him a ride back to Brooklyn.
· My son-in-law Shaya, lives in Baltimore and works at Johns Hopkins ER. He is an EMT, a paramedic and a PA . The ER was on alert for the injured brought from the Pentagon. He also was on standby.
· My cousin (MD) was NYC Mental Health Commissioner at the time - I can only imagine his part.
My son, my husband, my son-in-law. All players that day..My daughter-in-law, the grandchildren, my friend and I – all witnesses. Our entire family involved - we all had stories to relate.
That was 10 years ago.
Several weeks ago, on a Sunday, Osama bin Laden was killed. That Monday, it was quite a conversation at school. My grandson's first grade teacher felt that parents should explain the havoc and mayhem. As the school library had various children's books about 9/11, each child was to chose a random book to be taken home and read with the parent.
My son and his son sat down and together read the book, “Heroes of the Day
”. They looked at each picture and read each page. When they turned to the picture on page 24, my grandson pointed to an EMT assisting an injured fireman, and yells out gleefully “Daddy - that's you”!!!
My son realizes it IS his picture and is absolutely astounded!!
My grandson was beyond thrilled to be able to go into school the next morning and show everyone that his daddy is one of the “Heroes of the Day”!
P.S. As the proud mom, I am also thrilled.
Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs is County Chaplain, for Jewish Family and Children Services. She is the mother of 2 fabulous children, 2 exceptional in-law children, 10 fantastic grandchildren and one unmatchable hubby of 42 years.
Ten Years Later HealthCare Chaplaincy Staff Remember
“The memories I still have of being down close to the towers that day continue to remind me how lasting and life-changing trauma can be.”
That comment from the Rev. George Handzo sets the stage for this retrospective on September 11th, 2001.
Ten years of life unlived for 3,000 people and their loved ones.
Ten years of birthdays uncelebrated, graduations unobserved, events unattended, love unacknowledged.
30,000 years of life unlived, in all.
Here are recollections of HealthCare Chaplaincy staff from ten years ago.
The Rev. Jon A. Overvold
“I was working at a nursing home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side when the word came in. I gathered residents and staff at each floor for a brief prayer, starting at the 17th floor and working my way down. Along the way I came upon a nurse whose husband worked on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center. He had managed to get through to her by phone, saying I love you and goodbye, before the phone went dead. As I sat with her, her mind was on her children and how she would break the news to them.
“That night, at home in Brooklyn, people walked with candles and just came together to draw comfort from one another. I remember how unified we were, all Americans together and not divided, and somehow discovering hope in being together in this darkest of times.”
The Rev. George Handzo
“On the morning of 9/11 I was at New York Downtown Hospital, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, for a scheduled meeting. I was standing in the elevator bank with the hospital CEO when the first tower collapsed. We heard the explosion and then the cloud started to come and everybody started rushing in. It got dark. It was just like night. That lasted twenty minutes, and then it started to clear. Then the second tower collapsed, and the dust came over again. And people came streaming in, covered with dust.
“In the days that followed it became clear that we had to allocate part of our chaplain resources to the responders–to help the police, the firemen, the volunteers. And then there was the issue of self-care. I had to make sure that our chaplains took care of themselves, and that they didn’t serve for days on end without a break, even though they wanted to.”
Claire H. Altman
“On the morning of 9/11, at the wellness center in Lower Manhattan -- Olive Leaf Wholeness Center – where I was then involved, we opened the doors to policemen and firefighters who needed a respite from the search and recover operations.
“Over the next three months, we served 250 meals nightly at precincts and provided 14,000 massage and body work treatments to help relieve the stress of these heroes. Then until 2006, we offered treatment to help reduce the toxins in the bodies of those who worked on the ‘pile.’
“Too many of these men and women have died from exposure to toxins.
“Will we as a society recognize the needs of these heroes and begin to provide them the treatment they so desperately need?”
Imam Yusuf Hasan
“As chaplains we were trained to counsel people one-on-one. At the family center there were long lines of people waiting to get in. So I suggested to the other chaplains that we go outside our comfort zone, out into the street, and counsel them more than just one-on-one. I would walk the line, announce myself as a chaplain, and those people within the sound of my voice – maybe 5 or 6 at a time - would gather round. I would try to give them hope that they were not forgotten. It was comforting to them to know that people from the spiritual care world were out there with them, giving them support.”
Chaplain Eileen McKeon Pesek
“One day after 9-11 I was given a hard hat to go down to ‘The Pit’ as the space that had once been the Twin Towers was called. It was dusk. There were hundreds of workers. Ten feet away a fireman and an iron worker found a body. Everything stopped. They lifted the body from the rubble with the gentleness of a father picking up his newborn child. Eight workers stood in a circle, blessed themselves and wrapped the body in an American flag.
“Suffering makes us bitter or better. This tragedy brought out the best in everyone.”
Postscript on the value of CPE:
A study of compassion fatigue among clergy who responded to the 9/11 attacks
revealed that those who had Clinical Pastoral Education training fared better than those who had not: “CPE training appears to serve as a buffer against compassion fatigue and burnout.” (The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Fall 2005, Vol. 59, No. 3)
HealthCare Chaplaincy has developed a special prayer card in remembrance of 9/11. It can be found here
Bernie Rosner is the managing editor of print and electronic publications at HealthCare Chaplaincy. He comes from the advertising industry where he served as creative director at various New York City advertising agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather, Wells Rich Greene, and Grey.
In the Darkest Moments
I had been in New York City for the US Open Tennis Tournament which ended on September 9th. I debated when to leave the City because I hadn’t had a chance to do much touring since I was working the whole two weeks at the Open.
On Monday morning, September 10th, I decided to head back to Georgia and began the “hurry up and wait” routine for flying standby. I got an afternoon flight and was home for dinner time. I figured I would enjoy the evening with my husband and then send an email in the morning letting friends and family know I was back. Little did I know how much everything would change the next morning.
I returned to New York on September 19th, and ultimately I was there on and off for seven months, being sent through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and working specifically with Safe Horizon (SH), a victims’ services agency that initially was teamed with New York Crime Victims Board and later was given the task of distributing funds raised by United Way.
I worked at Pier 94 during September and October which was the Family Assistance Center (FAC). It was located off West Side Highway, or 12th Avenue, and 54th Street. Many organizations – Red Cross, Salvation Army, Fire Department of New York (FDNY), to name a few – had booths there to assist the families and victims with information and finances. There were many practical set up throughout the facility – for children to play, for internet connections, for long distance calls, for hot meals.
As the only chaplain volunteering with SH, I was given the task of assisting the two companies with the highest loss – Cantor Fitzgerald (658) and FDNY (343). While SH and other agencies understood the loss, they wanted those with greater emotional needs to be assisted by someone with professional training. From January through April I worked at two Disaster Assistance Service Centers (DASC), both located downtown, as Pier 94 had closed. These locations focused more on those who had lost property or employment due to proximity to the World Trade Center site. I worked until the closing of the last DASC location on April 13.
I last returned to New York in September 2002 for the first anniversary. While working at FAC, I connected with several British National families and kept in touch as we shared a common heritage – all my maternal relatives are British. Britain was the country with the second highest loss (67). I spent the day with them and attended the remembrance at the WTC site as well as the services at Trinity Church and St. Thomas Church. I am finalizing my trip for this year as I write this. While I might not connect with many people I knew in 2001 and 2002, I do hope to remember and reflect on the changes to New York and to me and the lives lost that sunny September day.
What I have learned
I count it privilege and honor to have worked in New York City after September 11th. At that time I did not have a permanent job and while that gave me heartache and disappointment, God used it to give me time and opportunity to help others through a horrific time. Like the many people I serve at my hospital now, I understand the frustration and disappointment of not being able to see “the big picture” nor feel good about the struggles of loss or inactivity.
As anyone who works disasters learns, life is truly fragile. Disasters bring a new perspective on life, on living and on what’s important. While it’s not helpful to compare someone’s horrible day to September 11, 2001, I keep in mind that I and many others survived that day and we can survive other difficult days. Disasters are also hurtful equalizers – they are no respecter of age, race, gender, standing, or religion. No matter what your background, difficult and hurtful events will occur. We can all survive, and possibly thrive, just a bit better when we do so together.
I’ve learned that even in the darkest moments, G-d is there. My personal life has had some dark times. When I wasn’t sure how to find the way out, G-d stayed with me and showed me bits of light to make it. G-d did the same for many on and after September 11th
. G-d did not stop the events from occurring, but G-d kept the promise to stay with us and never leave us abandoned or alone. It’s a reminder I can share with those I meet and minister to at the hospital. I’m happy to know the Ground Zero Cross
has been preserved and placed in the Museum at the World Trade Center site. In the the first century, the Romans used crosses as a means of cruel death. This cross, however, provided hope to the ones who spent so much time at the site.
On September 19th
, 2001 I walked down to the WTC site where what was still considered rescue work and would soon change to recovery. It had gotten dark and the streets were strangely quiet for New York City. There were lots of people but not much talking or activity. At one point, I could look down the street to the immense pile of destruction. In my head Dona Nobis Pacem
sang sadly. It was quite some time before I felt G-d’s peace, especially as I heard the stories and mourned with the many families who came to the FAC or DASC. I still pray for peace and for God’s continued presence and love to be felt anywhere there is pain.
Rev. Hazel R. Thomas serves as Chaplain Manager at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Houston Texas since June 2007. She is Board Certified through the Association of Professional Chaplains ordained by her faith group and endorsed within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Hazel is married to Phil who serves as Minister of Education/Administration at a local church.
Kansas City Surprises New York Chaplain
My wife returned to the car disoriented.
I asked, “What’s the matter?”
She said, “I went into the store to ask directions, and they sat down and drew me a map.”
It was our first day in Kansas City after moving there from New York.
Almost Dorothy-like, she turned to me and said, “We’re not in New York City anymore.”
Kansas and New York rarely seem to be mentioned in the same sentence– unless the topic is the typical red states versus blue states.
I remember attending a Royals-Yankees baseball game in Kansas City and hearing a fan shout, “Yankee fans are born on third base and think they hit a triple.”
I surmise many in KC would have agreed with that.
All that changed on 9/11.
Kansas City, like all of America, was devastated. Bumper stickers popped up saying “New York City is in Kansas.”
I distinctly remember a pick up truck with “G-d bless NYC” spray-painted in huge letters across its body. The writing dwarfed the NRA bumper sticker in the back.
9/11 seem to be revealing a powerful relational connection that before remained unspoken between KC and NYC.
Years later, the 9/11 Memorial services I led at my small Kansas City hospital were standing room only.
Imagine my surprise as I moved back to New York to become a chaplain at a large hospital near Ground Zero. Most staff could not get themselves to come to the 9/11 memorial service that year. As I walked the halls that day, I heard story after story about their helplessness.
On 9/11, they had stood in the ER and waited… and waited. As I reflected with a nurse, she broke down crying as she described throwing out medical supplies that had been opened in anticipation of the wounded who never came.
In her view, she wasn’t throwing out medical waste but burying patients she never was able to treat.
She explained she couldn’t go to the service; the wounds were too great to bear in community. She was voicing the experience of many of the staff.
These memories from these two cities provide two powerful images of the aftermath of 9/11.
One provides hope for seemingly disparate places (KC and NYC) finding meaningful community with each other.
The other speaks of wounds which may never experience community healing.
As a chaplain, I remain in awe and wonder about our own human condition and the potential for communion and isolation that we share in our woundedness.
Rabbi Nathan Goldberg is an Orthodox Rabbi, an ACPE Supervisor and member of the Clinical Faculty at HealthCare Chaplaincy.
The Rev. Florine Thompson
In Tears and Prayers We Broke Bread
Most people in New York talk about 9/11 as if it was experienced solely in one place – at the World Trade Center, the place that is now reverently called Ground Zero.
However, I propose that Ground Zero is more than just a physical place. Ground Zero is a metaphor for what happened in the hearts of people all over the world.
Most people speak of 9/11 as if it is merely a one day event.
I suggest to you that 9/11 is not a chronos event (in chronological time), but a kairos event (a moment of indeterminate time) that is still today having a rippling affect the world over.
It is a moment in time that has forever changed the lives, hearts, directions, thoughts, plans, fears, spirit and soul of countless numbers of people.
The morning after 9/11 I found myself in Queens, NY still in 9/11 mode. As I entered the administrative suite of St. John’s Queens Hospital, a physician approached me and said, “The lady who owns the restaurant down the street sure could use some pastoral care.”He gave me her business card and asked if I could go speak with her.
I entered the little storefront restaurant. It had about eight empty tables with four folding chairs around each. People passed by the window in a rush; looking distracted. A small 19 or20 inch television hanging from the wall was on, and the faces of several young, what appeared to be “Middle Eastern” looking men scrolled across the screen. The owner came toward me. I held up her business card and said, “I am a chaplain minister from the hospital. One of our doctors asked me to come see you. How are you doing?”
She extended her hand and reached for my hand as she led me toward a table to be seated. She was a Muslim. Her restaurant served vegetarian and Halal foods. Sitting at the table, she continued to hold my hand. She began to speak, with a strong accent, as tears the size of grapes flow down her cheeks.
“My daughter, my daughter,” she said.
I asked, “What is it about your daughter?”
“My daughter was there,” she said.
She stared at the television set above.
“My daughter is 22-years-old and she worked down there. She is not the same today. She is at home shaking and crying. I do not know what to do. I tried to bring her to work with me but she will not come.
I asked, “Was your daughter there yesterday?”
“She was working in the World Trade Center. Somehow she made it home. She ran until she made it home. She came across the bridge with others and she was covered with ash and found it hard to breathe.”
She continued talking, almost non-stop.
“My daughter’s company is setting up in New Jersey, but my daughter does not want to travel. Maybe she might feel better if she could be around her other co-workers, but I cannot get her out of the house. She is frightened, I am afraid and sad. I don’t know what to do.”
She pointed toward the door.
“Who will come to my restaurant now? How can I keep my business open? What will I do? Why did this happen?”
I realized that she was not looking for me to solve her problems, to answer her questions, or to be her counselor.
This woman was craving active listening, ministry of presence, mutual respect and compassion.
I found myself crying with her and holding her hand as tightly as she held mine.
Then slowly she got up from the table and walked beyond the counter. She looked toward me and said, “Please do not leave. Please eat with me. Please eat my food.”
I insisted that I was not hungry and did not wish to eat. My heart was heavy, I had no appetite.
However, as if she heard nothing I said, she approached me with a bowl of lentils and some nan.
This woman needed to share her pain. She needed to break symbolic bread.
So, I took the food and sat and ate. Together we ate and cried and prayed our own silent prayers.
I can’t say that I was fearless sitting in this Middle Eastern restaurant when Americans sought revenge, sweet revenge, and at any cost.
I had no idea whether or not someone would throw a garbage can through the window or torch the restaurant. I nursed my own fears and reservations as we sat together.
It seemed somehow that we were one.
Then we both happened at the same time to look up at the television screen and saw everyone on the screen was covered with ashes.
Maybe for the first time in history, we were all one, one in our pain, one in our fears, one in hue. We were the color of ash.
Even those of us who had escaped the physical covering of blown ashes and the deafening sound of pain, loss, grief and mourning, we shared hearts entrenched in the coarseness of sackcloth and the foulness of ashes.
The residue of 9/11 will forever be sealed in our minds.
9/11 has eternally changed the landscape of our hearts.
It has forever reshaped our lives.
The Rev. Florine Thompson, BCC, is Director of Pastoral Care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.
Memories of Scott
Every day after September 11, 2001 is different from every day before that date. Not a day passes that I am not reminded painfully of our loss of Scott, who was 26 when he was murdered. And not a day goes by that I don’t think about what a gift it was that he was our son.
The most acute pain always occurs when prayers are offered for the dead late in Mass, and when I hear America, which was played beautifully, like a dirge and then almost triumphantly, at the memorial service of the one-third of its employees lost by Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods, where Scott worked.
Everything about our family relationships is affected by September 11th. Sensitivities still show up that have to be managed with great care. Every birthday and holiday is different, and compromised, punctuated always by moments of individual and shared pain.
With faith and work, you find you are able to cope with the loss. You do not ‘move on’, which is what so many ask about, because moving on would imply that you can get over the loss. You cannot – and you do not want to – but you can continue to build your life around all your experiences, interests, and obligations, perhaps with a slightly sharper focus and selectivity resulting from your loss.
I have told many people I felt fortunate that I was almost 61 years of age when we lost Scott, and not the almost 71 that I am now at the 10th anniversary. I still had a full time job then, and after the numbness began to recede, returning to my responsibilities gave me strength. She doesn’t say it, but I think my wife Ann’s devotion to doing what she could for Scott’s siblings, Tom and Margaret, together with her many leadership obligations in the United Way, Connecticut College, Atlantic Health and others gave her strength to deal with the grief.
My worst day was my first return to Trinity College, where I was Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Scott also went to Trinity, and I discovered that our sharing of Trinity meant more to me than I had ever imagined.
My memories of Scott are of a truly generous and beautiful young man. I take great pleasure in how the high school-age Scott, who said he never wanted to have to wear a suit and go to work in an office, especially a bank, did become a banker after he finished college, and went on to become a bank stock analyst. What a gift it was for his banker father to share his excitement about his work!
He did wear suits, and because he was 6’3” and never weighed as much as 150 pounds, we had to find him a (cheap) tailor. I still smile when I recall the times we would be walking together and I would see how women looked at him, with his flashing smile, impeccable wardrobe, and carriage.
His generous spirit was celebrated by his friends at his memorial service, and the celebration continues with an annual party to raise funds for an award in his memory at his high school. Scott’s friends have grown and changed, but his presence in their lives has never diminished.
The best thing about my work with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum Foundation is my association with so many wonderful leaders who are determined that good must come out of the rebuilding. Some are civic leaders who did not experience personal loss while others, like me, do the work out of devotion to the family members who are no longer with us.
I have learned over the years how many more people than I had ever imagined have suffered grievous loss. A few are unable to go on, but most find a way to continue their lives, to be productive, and to provide comfort to others.
For other family members of 9/11, I have gotten to know, I am very grateful. The variety of their responses to their loss - from anger, to eloquence, to generosity – have given me greater appreciation of the nobility of the human spirit. They and all our fellow citizens who have helped on the 9/11 work provide a continuing reminder of the precious gift Scott was to us and the world.
Scott M. Johnson
April 7, 1975 – September 11, 2001
Thomas S. Johnson is the former chairman and CEO of GreenPoint Financial Corporation. Previously he was president and a director of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., and before that Chemical Bank. He serves on the boards of the Allegheny Corporation, The Phoenix Companies, Inc. and R.R. Donnelley and Sons Co. Tom is currently chairman of both The Institute of International Education and the United States Japan Foundation. He is a director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation. Tom earned his BA degree from Trinity College and an MBA from Harvard.
Drinking From Our Own Wells
The events of 9/11 did not come with a "How To" book. One of the unique experiences I found that in looking back to that fateful day I continue to be amazed in the improvisational and creative ways our city responded to this catastrophic event. Never had our country been attacked on its own soil, so this was a ‘new thing.’
We had to dig and begin to ‘drink from our own fresh wells dug out’ from the depth of the pit of Ground Zero. In a brief few minutes if not seconds, New York City was at once transformed from the city that never sleeps, operating 24/7 at a rhythm of Allegro Vivace Con Brio to a dirge. Entire city blocks which were bustling with commerce, people and laughter became sanctuaries covered with flowers, candles and pictures of loved ones amidst smoke filled silence. It was in this midst that I ministered.
My experiences are drawn from my work of the initial few days at Ground Zero, after which I was deployed to the 69th Regiment Armory on Park Avenue between 25th and 26th th Streets. As a chaplain, I was initially assigned to the special table reserved for firefighters and police officers who were returning from shifts at the pit after which I was also asked to assist with the collecting of DNA samples from those whose loved ones were either missing or assumed dead. I assisted several churches who set up small curbside counseling stations, often on Sundays. In the ensuing months, I became involved with a center called September Space which provided refuge for the traumatized and grieving offering spiritual care, meditation, Reiki, Tai Chi and acupuncture.
One advantage I believe assisted me in this work was being a certified Yoga/meditation practitioner and instructor. I had studied the works of Howard Bensen (‘The Relaxation Response’) and was able to integrate this into my counseling sessions as an effective tool in dealing with the traumatized, grieving persons who were receptive to it. Oddly, looking back, I recall very few persons who asked me to pray with them from any faith in the initial days.
There are several lessons that emerged for me in my role as a Chaplain while ministering to those affected by the events of 9/11:
· To respect the silence and wordlessness that can accompany shock and trauma.
· The possibility of effectively utilizing portions of Eastern based meditation, breathing and relaxation techniques so they assist a traumatized individual in regaining some peace and composure while not disturbing his/her own faith tradition.
· The emergence of a new spirituality that grew out of the pit of Ground Zero: a spirituality that is neither theistic or deistic. It is from this well filled with tears, terror, ashes, hope and labor from which one can now drink. It may very well be the 'new thing' the prophet Isaiah speaks of: "Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up...I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:19)
The events of 9/11 had a way of leveling the playing field for both responders and those affected simply because almost everyone was wounded or affected in some way. The I and Thou relationship seemed to merge in many ways. Having some tools in my tool kit in no way lessened my own abject terror and response to the horror. However, I was able to manage these in order to be present and perhaps be of comfort to those I counseled. One could call this the 'wounded healer.'`
I believe having and managing one's own wounds is a vital aspect of our practice as chaplains. Therefore, I would like to leave you with this quote from St. Bernard de Clairveaux. I was particularly touched because of its almost childlike simplicity and elegance:
”In order to have a miserable heart because of another's heart, you must know your own...so you may find your neighbor's mind in your own." (From "Steps of Humility, St. Bernard de Clairveaux)
*The title of this article is a paraphrase of the original book by St. Bernard de Clairveaux, ‘We Drink from Our Own Wells’ as well as a book by Gustavo Gutierez. The primary tenat being that one’s spirituality and faith are shaped by their community, milieu and G-d’s interfacing with human history.
Dina Mann is currently Chair of Episcopal Response to AIDS, a faith based 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization which funds, enables and fosters Episcopal congregations who provide programs for those infected/affected by HIV/AIDS as well as in the prevention and education of the disease. She has worked as a chaplain for various HIV/AIDS organizations for the past ten years.
Education & Research
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Over the last month I have been moved deeply as I have read dozens of colleagues 9/11 reflections. This is deeply personal for me. I live ¼ mile from Ground Zero; the night before 9/11 I had ridden my bike to see a movie at a theatre located across from the Twin Towers. A close colleague was in the buildings that day and shared with me her moving experiences of fleeing and helping others flee. A neighbor whom I had worked closely with for many years on a community board was on the NYPD bomb squad and, even though off duty that day, raced into the buildings to save lives – he gave his life for others. Like other New Yorkers who have reflected upon their experiences, I also have deeply mixed reflections when I look back over the weeks, months and years prior to and following 9/11.
The goal of this reflection is to touch both the heart/spirit, like above, and also the mind, by using this moment as opportunity to teach. It is all very personal. My reflection is about speaking with loving honesty about ALL of 9/11 - not just the good. There was also the bad and the ugly, as there is in any disaster. As professionals, we need to see and learn from it all, make note of aspects, figure out how we address/plan for all aspects of a disaster. In knowledge there is wisdom.
· Diverse local colleagues who gave of themselves before the need. – A diverse group of professional colleagues I recruited worked hard for almost 2 years prior to 9/11 creating a disaster spiritual care program for American Red Cross of Greater New York (ARC). We concluded the organizing work just a week prior to 9/11. We thought we were planning for a plane crash. On 9/12 we ended up responding to the largest terrorist act in our country’s history.
My charge to you the reader – go forth and do the same in your OWN
community NOW!! In NYC we were able to respond quickly within ARC as we were already known and we had an established diverse group. Diversity is key for an effective disaster spiritual care response program. Diversity must be actively designed from the very beginning. You must always ask yourself in planning: “Who is not at the table?” and “How do I reach them?”
· Outside colleagues stepping in to help – I was exhausted after the first week of 9/11 work. As the Senior Officer for ARC over Spiritual Care by the end of the first week I had set up four different Family Assistance Centers, a full program that would ultimately have close to 800 volunteers, deployed colleagues in a variety of locations and had almost no sleep. I, and many other locals, was exhausted. Outside colleagues stepped in for weeks and months to help. When the operation was turned back over to me in at the end of the year, I was ready again.
· Coming together for training – This was another high point for me. The largest interfaith clergy gathering in NY history took place in June, 2002 as almost 800 clergy leaders of faith communities came together for a day of intense disaster spiritual care practical learning. I was able to help organize a multitude of training to help colleagues understand the life cycle of a disaster, the need for self-care, and the theory behind disaster spiritual care responses.
Charge to the reader: Plan on 3 to 6 months after a local disaster to run similar training. The value is not only in the learning but equally important in the fellowship.
– I was blessed that the Healthcare Chaplaincy was committed and supported me in doing research on the impact of disaster on leaders of faith communities. Peer review published research[i]
highlighted the need to do shift defusing and end of job “debriefings.” (see Self Care below)
Charge to the reader: do more peer review published research. This is how best practices come about!
· Lack of Self Care – Learning: Implement programs of self-care for those who work in any disaster relief organization you are involved with. Why? On 9/12 I implemented a rule for those volunteering with ARC – if you were unwilling to defuse at the end of each shift, you were thanked for your service and your ID was permanently removed. Further, after a couple months we implemented a one shift a week rule for those serving at “The Pile/the Pit” to limit exposure. However, most disaster relief agencies did not put into place similar safeguards. My heart breaks and my spirit gets angry when I reflect upon this as I know dozens, if not hundreds, of our colleagues who volunteered and then paid the price after 9/11 for the lack of appropriate stewardship. The end result was burn out, post traumatic stress disorder, family break ups and loss of vocation.
· Self-Deployment – Learning: Set up a local spiritual care organizations prior to disaster, known to your local uniformed officers, American Red Cross, OEM, etc., which will serve as a “gatekeeper.” The sad truth is that clergy must police other clergy in disasters. Why? Self-deployment is about good intentions - horrible results. With 9/11, persons who did not understand disasters or how to respond to them showed up and bullied their way past police officers into places they had no business and to which they did more harm than good. They used their religious symbols, such as collars knowing that most police respect and will defer to it. By doing so, they exposed themselves to physical, emotional and spiritual harm and they also exposed others through their actions.
· Fraud – Learning: Everyone who volunteers must have both a background check and also a letter of endorsement from a reputable and known endorsing agent which is verified independently from the source. After 9/11 (and now) just because someone wore a religious symbol did not mean that they were qualified to respond. On numerous occasions this turned out to be true. In one egregious case someone who volunteered early on forged a letter of reference and other documents and then later was involved in financial fraud.
· Taking spiritual advantage of those impacted by 9/11
– Learning: National VOAD[ii] has created Disaster Spiritual Care “Points of Consensus.[iii]” Become familiar with them and implement them in your community around disasters. What prompted this? After 9/11 (and many other larger disasters since then) some individuals and also groups decided to take spiritual advantage of those hurt and in turmoil. Instead of meeting people where they were and helping meet their needs, they spiritually abused them and took advantage of their grief and vulnerability to be easily manipulated.
– Learning : It does happen. Intentional and unintentional. Only if we actively have this on our radars will we notice it and stop it. A great course is: Undoing Racism® Community Organizing Workshop[iv].
I remember one occasion that I was on a panel with a Black Baptist minister with a doctorate. He spoke on a subject. However, when the questions came, I was asked about his topic even though he was sitting next to me and it was his field of expertise. I observed institutional racism multiple times around issues of funding and participation of minority communities.
Rabbi Stephen B. Roberts, MBA, BCJC, is a past president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. He has taught extensively, and written and published research on pastoral and spiritual care, with a particular focus on disaster response. He is co-editor of Disaster Spiritual Care: Practical Clergy Responses to Community, Regional and National Tragedy (SkyLight Paths), the only text book in the field of disaster spiritual care. He is the editor of Professional Spiritual & Pastoral Care – A Practical Clergy and Chaplain’s Handbook (SkyLight Paths), being published this fall.
Compassion Fatigue Among Chaplains, Clergy, and Other Respondents After September 11th
; Rabbi Stephen B. Roberts, BCC, MBA,et.al; The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
• Volume 191, Number 11, November 2003
[ii] National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) is the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery—to help disaster survivors and their communities. Members of National VOAD form a coalition of nonprofit organizations that respond to disasters as part of their overall mission. www.nvoad.org
Offered by: People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. www.pisab.org
Rabbi Jodie Futornick
A Trip to Ground Zero
On Sunday, November 25, 2001, I had one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life. I had responded to a request for rabbis and chaplains to accompany groups of family members to the site of the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Since I knew I would be visiting my parents in New Jersey that weekend, I readily volunteered for this task.
The Red Cross Family Assistance Centers (FAC) in the New York area had been bringing boatloads of family members of victims of the September 11 attacks to Ground Zero throughout the autumn months. I considered it a deep and precious honor to be able to join one of these groups as a chaplain and companion.
I arrived at the FAC in Jersey City at 10 AM for a staff briefing, and there I met volunteers from all over the country. Most were mental health professionals – social workers, clinical psychologists and assorted therapists – and there were a handful of clergy people serving as chaplains. The general guidance the Red Cross professionals gave to the companions was to be available to family members without intruding on their experience. It was an opportunity to apply all of the principles I had learned through my work in pastoral care, how to be a caring presence for others at a time when there are few words that will help.
While at the center, I also met many other people who had come to New York to volunteer their time staffing the center. Their tasks may have been as mundane as serving food or stacking supplies, but they were all there for the common purpose of helping the survivors of the tragedy through their grief.
The families began to arrive at 11 AM. Each family was given the option of being paired with a companion, a person specially qualified to guide people through grief and trauma. There was a briefing for family members at 12:30, followed by a brief bus ride to the ferry and a seven-minute boat ride to Battery Park at the tip of lower Manhattan. From the start of the family briefing until we returned to the FAC at about 2:30 PM, family members and companions stayed together as a group.
On the ferry, every member of the group received a hard hat, necessary gear for admittance to what had become a huge construction site. As it turned out, these hard hats served a far greater purpose than simply protecting us from falling debris at the site. They also clearly identified us as a group of survivors who were going to bear witness to the site where loved ones had so suddenly and brutally perished. I will never forget the looks of compassion and reverence on the faces of passers-by as our group proceeded through the streets of lower Manhattan.
It might seem that I am stating the obvious when I say that the most powerful experience of the afternoon was standing on the viewing platform at the actual site of Ground Zero. But I truly was not prepared for the substance of my reaction to that moment. Part of the advice that had been offered to us by the Red Cross workers earlier that day had been to recognize that everyone would react to the experience differently, and that many people would be taken aback by the nature of their own responses. Standing on the platform, looking at the remains of the World Trade Center, I was one of those people whose reaction surprised even myself.
It was not until a few days later, after I had some time to process the experience, that I identified what it was I had been feeling that entire day, most intensely while on the viewing platform. I was not overcome by the sense of utter disgust, revulsion and grief that I had expected to feel when staring at the ruins of the Trade Center. In all honesty, I had not yet been able to connect in my mind the sight of indescribable decimation with the memory of what I knew the Trade Center to be. To say that the television did not do the sight justice is a massive understatement. It is the closest that I and many other Americans will ever come to being in the middle of a war zone.
But the horror and the destruction was not the dominant image of that day for me. No! Standing on that platform amongst so many grieving people, I felt myself flooded by the feelings of compassion, caring, and love that were being so selflessly offered by the volunteer companions. I felt the presence of all that is truly good in the human spirit. In short, I felt the presence of G-d.
When I picture myself standing on that platform that Sunday afternoon, I can see and feel a powerful contrast. Across the way, there is evidence of the most horrible destruction ever to occur on American soil, a symbol of evil and baseless hatred. But standing next to me is the tangible presence of goodness and unconditional love. And in that moment, I was overwhelmed by the realization that there is far more love and goodness in this world than there is hatred and evil.
Many times since September 11 I struggled to find the faith to keep going in the aftermath of such overwhelming tragedy. I believe now that on a raw November afternoon, as I bore witness to the wreckage, I found a basis for that faith. When pure evil makes itself manifest, as it did on September 11, it wreaks far more destruction in infinitely less time than it will take the messengers of goodness to rebuild. But if we are patient, and if we continue to reach out to one another and rally our sources of spiritual strength, I do believe that goodness will ultimately prevail.
Rabbi Jodie Futornick, MA, BCC received her Rabbinical Ordination and Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1989 and led congregations for 15 years prior to becoming a professional chaplain. This piece was written during her pulpit career, several months after the events of 9-11. For the last five years, she has served as staff chaplain at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL, specializing in oncology and clinical ethics. She was Board Certified by APC in 2007.
9/11 Ten Years Later
On that fateful 9/11 Tuesday morning, I was orienting CPE students in our hospital in Washington DC. A student was called out of the classroom twice with cell phone calls and he asked to talk to me outside the group. Little did I know the news he was about to give me would change our lives forever. “Chaplain Nenninger, I’ve received two calls that something huge is happening in New York. One of our Twin Towers was bombed.” I made the announcement to the rest of the group, turned on the TV, and watched as history was unfolding.
We saw the first Tower burning, then the second Tower, then the Pentagon being hit only miles from where we were, and the threat of a fourth plane headed toward us. CPE orientation was over and response to human need began. Our hospital quickly began preparing to receive patients that never were to come.
Rumors spread of bombings in Washington, though not true, they raised already elevated anxieties. We didn’t learn about the crash of Flight 93 at Shanksville until much later. We knew something had happened since too much time had passed for the plane to make it to Washington. We did know that fighter jets had been deployed. In our shock and disbelief, we continued to prepare for receiving victims.
Our Pastoral Care Department began broadcasting devotionals to patients, collecting water and flashlights, visiting units to maintain a pastoral presence, and were prepared to be “runners” in case of communication failure. When victims didn’t arrive from the Pentagon, we surmised there were few if any survivors and a revered silence spread across our staff. We couldn’t believe what was happening. When the fourth plane didn’t arrive we were grateful, but wondered what had happened to it. We questioned, would our fighter jets shoot down one of our own commercial planes filled with passengers? How could our USAF pilots do that? What about the passengers?
Two days later, I was deployed to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation (DRO) Center, headquartered near the Pentagon. The DRO Center was located in a vacant, about to be demolished, old Sears Store along Arlington Pike. My CEO, had granted me paid leave for a two week deployment at the DRO Center. I was the Lead Officer for the Spiritual Care Aviation Incident Response Team (SAIR).
Several SAIR members arrived later, as the “no fly” order was lifted, and our team began handling clergy and community requests, as well as recruiting, training, assigning, supervising, and credentialing responders. Most chaplaincy was handled by military chaplains at the Pentagon. We collaborated with them and worked together in seeing that needs were met.
There was a cloud of fear and mistrust among people during those early weeks. Our work included pastoral care to calm fears, to educate, and invite folks to join response efforts in recovery. ARC representatives went out in teams to community meetings to various groups, including ministerial and clergy groups.
One such meeting was with an “Interfaith” council, which was actually a protestant clergy group who were meeting to organize themselves and who had requested a briefing on current response work at the Pentagon. I invited an Imam friend from Baltimore to attend with three of us from the DRO Center. As clergy introduced themselves around the table the introductions came to us. I was concerned with how my Muslim friend would be received. I had invited him to share some of the incidents experienced by the Muslim community. Many families were afraid to leave their homes and their mosques for fear of violence.
You could hear a pin drop as I introduced the Imam and he began to speak of how Muslims were receiving all kinds of social abuse. Many Muslims locked themselves in doors. A number of children were harassed and stories of being beaten, hurt, and violated on the streets abounded. The tone of the meeting shifted immensely and what was negative and critical turned into sympathy and kindly acts. The clue here was to make Interfaith Meetings truly interfaith and to listen to one another.
Though we encourage responders to take time for self care, very few really do in the midst of so much need. Working on the scene of a disaster requires constant focus and flexibility. When periods of rest come, family connections occur. These connections are extremely important. Our families want to know how we’re doing, too.
For me, my father’s struggle with cancer was coming to a close in that September. Dad was a WWII Veteran, and the war he fought was the ‘war to end all wars’. So watching our homeland being bombed by terrorists using our own passenger planes was terrifying for him. His worry over his son being in Washington at the time was even scarier. My father died, in my arms, within a month of 9/11, ruling out any further disaster work for me. I did help train some responders in Atlanta for New York City.
When the dust settles, one contemplates the lessons learned. Little things taken for granted become more profound, like the importance of all family relationships. Keeping in touch with each other, and listening more deeply to the other as they express themselves. Not being afraid to ask those important questions about how life is for them, what their dreams are, and how are they really doing.
Disasters and crisis are great teachers for us. They help us reset priorities in life. Things we once thought important, may not be anymore. And other things we didn’t even think about are moved to the top of the list. Life really does change. And our Bucket Lists become much more real than just being a good movie. One survivor said it best, of what he learned after losing his wife in a disaster, he now spends more time making footprints in the sand, looking more deeply in every corner, and drinking the best wine.
We continue to live and learn ten years after 9/11.
Jim Nenninger is a Retired ACPE Supervisor and Board Certified Chaplain living in Northern Virginia with his wife Rae. Jim was one of the original members of the Spiritual Care Team with ARC. He was the Director of The Pastoral Care Department at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, DC during 9/11. Currently, Jim volunteers at NHQ as the Co-Leader of SC at the DOC.
September 11: An Opportunity for Dialogue
On the day the Twin Towers fell, I had just completed my first unit of CPE and was still serving as a full-time pastor of a small conservative Christian congregation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite my conservative roots, I had been involved for over 5 years with numerous ecumenical and interfaith groups. And so on that day when America was attacked by religious fundamentalists, my thoughts turned to my good friends who practiced Islam and my other interfaith colleagues.
I remember that it was actually the evening of that first 9/11, when I visited our local Iranian restaurant and felt a pervading atmosphere of suspicion, that I pledged to gather some of my interfaith friends together on the sanctuary platform of my church so that they could be seen as our brothers and sisters. This was a radical notion for a conservative congregation despite the times. Never before had I seen a person of another faith on the platform of any church in my denomination. But tough times often call for tough decisions. So I went ahead and invited a Muslim imam friend of mine as well as my friend, the abbot of a local Thai Buddhist temple, to speak. The abbot and the congregation that came with him had encountered discrimination when their saffron-robed monks came to town five years prior. This was the first time since their arrival that they had an invitation to a community religious event!
I honestly had no idea how my congregation would react that first Sunday after 9/11. Amazingly they responded with open arms and an outstretched hand, which was rather puzzling to the male monks whose religious practice included not touching women!
As the first anniversary of 9/11 approached, I again felt the need to call on my interfaith relationships. Fortunately, my community was a microcosm of the diversity found throughout the Bay Area. Within a 5-mile radius of our church there was a mosque, a synagogue, a Hindu temple, the Thai Buddhist temple and Christian churches of all description.
It took a great deal of cross-cultural understanding and nuts and bolts planning but all faith groups ended up being represented at our first anniversary 9/11 Service of Remembrance at a local high school auditorium. Several Bay Area TV news organizations covered the event which drew about 400 participants.
Again, on the Sunday nearest 9/11 and every year of my pastorate there, I invited an interfaith representative to speak. Usually the speaker’s religious tradition was Islam because I felt there was a need to counter the Islamophobia that had become more prevalent. I always added a Q&A time over food after the service so that our people could get to know the speaker better. My experience has always been that the best interfaith dialogue happens over a table of food!
Since I moved into full-time chaplaincy five years ago, I have found it much more difficult to use the 9/11 anniversary as an opportunity for dialogue. I don’t have the time I had in the pastorate to devote to interfaith relations. Nevertheless, I see chaplains as strategically positioned to facilitate this kind of dialogue. We work with and respect all faiths and often have some degree of affiliation with clergy groups in the surrounding area.
What if, instead of it being a time of rising tension between different religious groups, the 9/11 anniversary could be memorialized as an opportunity for interfaith dialogue? What if, on the weekend nearest the 9/11 anniversary, there was a mass exchange of religious representatives among temples and mosques and synagogues and churches? What if, instead of experiencing the despair of our conflicts with people who are different from us, we could provide an experience every 9/11 that would help bridge the chasm of religious and ethnic prejudice and misunderstanding?
As we look back 10 years to the events that changed our nation forever, let us also choose to use that terrible occasion as a means of greater interfaith dialogue. Let us turn a significant tragedy into a momentous opportunity. This is the legacy I wish for 9/11.
Steve Brown is a Staff Chaplain for Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Hayward, CA. Steve earned his M.Div. at Nazarene Theological Seminary and was Board Certified by the APC in 2008. He has also served as a staff chaplain at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, CA after pastoring in the Bay Area for 17 years. Steve is marrying his best friend later this month (September 2011) and has a grown son. He enjoys bird-watching, photography, hiking, and watching movies and jazz concerts.