9/11 Ceremony Without Clergy Involvement?

Recently Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City announced that there would be no clergy participation in the 10th anniversary observance of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.  Many were stunned at this decision, including City Council member Fernando Cabrera, who is also a pastor at a Bronx church, who said he was “utterly disappointed” with the mayor’s position.   Cabera told the New York Times that the clergy “were the spiritual and emotional backbone, and when you have a situation where people are trying to find meaning, where something is bigger than them, when you have a crisis of this level, they often look to the clergy.”

They were there during the event.

Chaplains went into the burning towers along with the other rescue personnel.  They ministered to victims , some of whom were in their final moments of life.  They stood with the firefighters and other civil servants and served in every conceivable way.  Some, like New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge, perished in the tragedy.  No one seemed to mind on that day if “religious people” showed up to help.  Quite the opposite; their ministry was welcomed and sought.

They were there after the event.

On the afternoon and evening of 9/11, churches began filling with people.  Men and women wanted to pray together for the victims, their families, and themselves.  The following weekend, sanctuaries were filled to overflowing as congregants sought spiritual answers to the deepest questions of the human heart.  In many cases clergy members provided substantive help from God’s Word that began the process of national healing.  It was a fascinating time as road signs went from advertising “2 cheeseburgers for a dollar” to proclaiming “God Bless America.”  Many churches reported significant increases in Sunday attendance that lasted weeks and months after the event.

But not now?

Rudy Washington, a former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani said, “This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me.”  He went on to say, “I feel like America has lost its way.”  True that.  Perhaps the lesson here is that your real heart is not revealed when the towers are falling, but ten years later.  God please help us, whether we think we need it or not.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.