Shelby County residents turn to God following tragedy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, residents from across the county flocked to local churches looking for answers. A year later, the Reporter questioned the leaders of three Shelby County churches about the effect those events have had on their ministries and their members.

Pastor Christopher A. Joiner Elliottsville Presbyterian Church of Alabaster

Elliottsville Presbyterian Church of Alabaster is having a an all-day prayer vigil in the sanctuary of the church, today from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The church has also provided prayer guides for those who want to use them with prayers for the United States and leaders across the world.

What kind of role has your church played in people’s lives since the attack?

&uot;We had a prayer service on Sept. 12 that drew a large crowd, and we gave people the opportunity to articulate their grief, anger and fear within the context of worship. In the months since, we have included the nation and our leaders regularly in the prayers of the people.

&uot;We sent goodie bags to our members who served overseas in the reserves, and we have found ways to be supportive of all our people, many of whom experienced fear and anxiety in the days and months following the attacks. We also started a Bible study titled, ‘Shalom: God’s Vision of Peace,’

in order to help our people reflect on issues of war and peace in the months following the attacks.&uot;

Are people still flocking to the churches a year later?

&uot;We saw a marked increase in our attendance in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. That attendance has not decreased in the year since. Although I can’t speak for all the churches in our area, this congregation has really come together and maintained an increased interest in discipleship and spirituality.&uot;

How were you personally affected by the attack?

&uot;It was personally painful to watch these things unfold. I felt the tremendous grief and anger that I know the entire nation felt. I remember thinking that it would be difficult to speak to the many theological issues raised by this attack.

&uot;I knew that it was religious fanaticism that fueled the hatred of the men who carried it out, and I didn’t want the church to respond in fanatical and hateful ways. I have been extremely pleased with the thoughtful, civil and active response of the people of this congregation in praying not only for ourselves and our friends, but our enemies as well, as we were commanded by Jesus to do. So, in the midst of the pain, I have a a great hope that all the churches of this nation will contribute to God’s vision of peace.

&uot;I think these events give those of us in the church an opportunity to engage in dialogue with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community. I hope all Christians will find a way to foster these conversations in this increasingly pluralistic nation.&uot;

Pastor Terry Hill

Calera First United

Methodist Church

Calera First United Methodist Church had a special 9/11 Rememberance Service on Sunday. The church honored special guests from the Calera Fire Department. Tonight at 7 p.m., the church will have a special prayer service, honoring members of the Calera Police Department who will be the special guests.

What kind of a role has your church played in people’s lives since the attack.

&uot;We have provided people a place of hope and reassurance. I have helped people try to understand if there is meaning to all this and I try to determine where to turn them for help. We have addressed the issue several ways: through messages, through opportunities of prayer and support. On Sunday nights we started something called Sunday Theories. Last Sunday night, we addressed how we are facing a possible war with Iraq. We are trying to address watercooler or coffee-pot type issues.&uot;

Are people still flocking to the churches a year later?

&uot;No. The 30 days or so afterward people were searching for answers, and it brought them closer to the question, ‘where is my faith?’ I haven’t seen much of a change since then. People have a short memory, and they go back to their old habits saying ‘By the way Lord, I’ll call on you later.’

&uot;It peaked our interest for a little while. If we are contemplating going to war with Iraq, that will bring people back to their feelings they had after 9/11 &045; life, war and death. Those are issues people don’t want to think about unless they have to.&uot;

How were you personally affected by the attack?

&uot;I felt vulnerable. I guess as an American, I felt like 95 percent of the rest of the country. I felt insulated from attack. We border big countries, and we have 2,000 miles of ocean separating us from the rest of the world. But war was brought into our home.&uot;

Pastor Michael Miller

First Baptist Church

of Columbiana

First Baptist Church of Columbiana will have a 9/11 Remembrance Service tonight from 6:30-7:30 pm.

The service will consist of patriotic music, video clips of the events of 9/11 and interviews with those who actually survived the tragedy, a brief message on lessons learned from this catastrophe, a candle lighting ceremony and special recognition of local firefighters, rescue workers and police officers.

What kind of role has your church played in people’s lives since the attack?

&uot;I think our role as a church has been simply to assure people that even though evil is so prevalent in our world today &045; which has never been so graphically illustrated as it was on Sept. 11 &045; that God is still

present in the midst of the chaos of life, and that he is able to give us the peace, hope and strength we so desperately need in these times.&uot;

Are people still flocking to the churches a year later?

&uot;We experienced a temporary increase in attendance for the first few weeks after the tragedy, but we quickly saw those who were responding only on an emotional basis and not from a deeper sense of commitment quickly fade back into the shadows in terms of their church attendance.&uot;

How were you personally affected by the attack?

&uot;As were most Americans, I was deeply affected by the events of 9/11 and by the fact that human beings could be so possessed by hatred and evil that they would lose all sense of value for human life &045; including their own. Of course, we see this happening every day on a much smaller scale in the Middle East and other places but never on such a grand scale as Sept. 11.

&uot;I think it served as a wake-up call to Christians everywhere concerning the urgency of the hour and the need to live out our faith in the midst of such a broken and hostile world.&uot;