SEPTEMBER 13, 2001
A Letter from Ground Zero
One way to treat the public role of "private" or "congregational" religion in a moment such as this one is through close-ups. I chose this e-mail because it is just such a close-up. It is from our friend Stephen Bouman, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in New York. He writes from ground zero.
Last night [Sept. 11] I was caught at the George Washington Bridge, closed for an hour by a bomb threat. I eventually got home. I will be at a prayer vigil at St. Paul's, New City at ten this morning. Such vigils are occurring throughout the metropolis. I called each of our Manhattan parishes yesterday. They have been busy, offering water, prayer, counsel, shelter; each pastor and parish reaching out to the city with compassion. Pastors throughout the metropolis are walking with people in grief, fear, worry and spiritual need.
President David Benke of the Atlantic District and I are trying to coordinate the resources of our communions. David was stuck in Brooklyn. He went over to Lutheran Medical Center to encourage Chaplain Ben Stallings and his staff and the patients. They treated over forty people, mostly for smoke inhalation. Local pastors have given overwhelming support. We are asking our social ministry organizations to be ready for a coordinated effort with our parishes and church bodies when we know what will be needed. Lutheran Social Services, who lost their downtown building yesterday, will be having an emergency executive committee meeting at our synod offices on Riverside Drive.
Fire Chief Dan Nigro, a member of Good Shepherd in Bayside, Queens is one of only two fire chiefs still alive. Pastor Jane Gaeta tells me the depth of their grief ismatched by their effort in saving lives.
A member of Bethlehem in the Bronx worked on the forty-second floor of the World Trade Center. They were able to evacuate all of those in her office. She is wheel chair bound, and we have not heard from her.
Janet, a teacher from Christ, Yonkers said that twenty parents from her school are unaccounted for.I called Pastor Khader El Yateem, the Palestinian pastor of our Arab ministry in Brooklyn to share our love and prayers for them. A relative answered and wept while receiving the message of support.
Last night our son, Timothy, called us from Tanzania, frantic with worry. Bishop Bubwera and pastor Mwombecki visited them, prayed with them, and brought them to a place where they could get CNN.
These stories are multiplied across the metropolis. The impact and physical and emotional devastation of this horror unfolds every minute and will continue for a long time. All of us are feeling so very inadequate and frustrated. What can we do? Where should we go? And so we are driven to our knees in prayer. I am going now to St. Paul's to do just that.
As Roy Riley, Lee Miller, Margaret Payne have shared, this has hit all the synods of our region. It would be unbearable without your presence and prayers.
We need to share such stories, multipliable by hundreds, these days.