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How to Keep Faith in Time of Tragedy: A Service of Grief and Hope in Response to September 11, 2001

By Jen Devine

In the face of the horrific events in New York City; Washington, DC; and Pennsylvania; we all are feeling the emotional blow of witnessing such devastation.

As Unitarian Universalists (UUs) we have to respond.

  • People need a place to process their feelings.
  • People need a place to find hope.
  • People need a place to figure out how to respond.

We can help create these spaces in our churches and communities.

The following are some resources that might help UUs support each other and those in need:

  • Outline for a brief service of grief and hope.
  • Suggestions of things you can do in your community.
  • Readings to help parents think about what to say to their children.

Outline of a Service of Grief and Hope

Thoughts…

People may be feeling; numb, sad, angry, helpless, vengeful, bewildered, confused, grief, despair, and many other emotion.

People need a place to process their feelings and place to come together to know they are not alone in their shock.

We must open our church doors and let people come together and talk and share their fears, so that their fears and pain can be released. Many churches have just opened their door to invite people into a safe place to be together.

Unitarian Universalist congregations can be a place where people who are not comfortable with traditional church serves, might come.

Create a service that will hold all the emotions that people are feeling, and give them some sense of hope and not being alone.

Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUUers) are great at planning services that deal with deep emotions, grief, and healing. Be sure to your services are planned with youth and to tailor it to meet the needs and the style of your community.

People of all ages will benefit by coming together to share, include all ages in your services.

Ideas for a Service

All readings are from Singing the Living Tradition, the Unitarian Universalist Hymn book), available through the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Bookstore.

Welcome people, welcome all faiths, all feelings, all fears and frustrations.

"We gather today to find peace and hope in the midst of horrific devastation.

May our time this evening inspire us "to use our powers to heal and not to harm, to help and not to hinder, to bless and not to curse," to love and not to hate.”

Light a candle or a chalice.

Choose a reading of reflection and centering. Three suggestions:

  • Reading #597 "Love Versus Hate” by Dhammapada
    Never does hatred cease by hating in return:
    Only through love can hatred come to and end.
    Victory breeds hatred:
    The conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment.
    They who give up all thought of victory or defeat,
    May be calm and live happily at peace.
    Let us overcome violence by gentleness:
    Let us overcome evil by good:
    Let us overcome the miserly by liberality:
    Let us overcome the liar by truth.

     
  • Reading #454 by Christine Robinson
    In our time of grief, we light a flame of sharing, the flame of ongoing life. In this time when we search for understanding and serenity in the face of loss, we light this sign of our quest for truth, meaning and community
     
  • Reading #463 by Adrienne Rich
    My heart is moved by all I cannot save: So much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those, who age after age, perversely, with not no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

Invite a moment of silent prayer and meditation for all those directly touched by this tragedy. For those who lost their lives, for those wounded, for those who are still trapped, for all those helping to rescue people, for the people who witnessed the crashes and collapsing buildings, for those still trying to find missing people, for those who were responsible, that they may see the wrongness of what they have done, for those who have already suffered a racist slur or a feeling of being blamed or victimized, for the events; for all of us impacted by the imaginings of the terror that others must have felt, and by our own shock at the cruelty humanity can create. May we allow ourselves to feel the depths of our despair, and my we reach out to comfort each other.

Silence

Amen.

  • Song (#389)
    Gathered here, in the mystery of the hour
    Gathered here in one strong body
    Gather here in the struggle and the power
    Spirit draw near.

Invite people to turn to two neighbors and groups of three to share their feeling about what has happened. Remind people to make sure everyone gets a chance to share.

Return to the larger circle—Give everyone a votive candle. Invite people to go to the center and light a candle. Invite them to share a fear, or a hope they have about the situation.

After many have shared, acknowledge there are other fears and hopes not spoken, that we should acknowledge and make space in our live in the coming weeks and months for ways to express those fears and hopes.

If we are going to get though tough times and survive on this planet, we have to learn how to be with each other, both in our home, in our communities, and in the larger world. To share our gifts with each other, to learn how to help one another, to love across our difference, to love the very differences themselves. We must learn to love not to hate, to have hope and not despair, to find support and not separation, to build community not to feed conspiracy theories. Only together can we build the support of each other to know that this terror only has the power we give it.

  • Sing (suggested text):
    Building bridges between our divisions,
    If I reach out to you will you reach out to me?
    With all of our voices and all of our visions,
    Friends we can make such sweet harmony.

End with holding hands, hugs, and blow out the chalice with a reading.

Suggested Readings

  • Reading #456 by Elizabeth Selle Jones
    We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.
     
  • Responsive Reading & Prayer by Rev. Sylvia L. Howe, First Parish Church, September 11, 2001

Have people take a candle and exit in silence. Perhaps you can hold a candlelight vigil and join with other congregations in your area and have a silent vigil.

Things You Can Do to Help

  • Organize a blood donation at your church.
     
  • Set up a hotline number for those who are alone and need someone to talk to.
     
  • Go visit people who are alone in your community and bring them a meal and talk. People who are alone psychologically will have the hardest time recovering from the emotional impact of the events. Reach out to those who are isolated.
     
  • Speak to the children in your family and neighborhood about loving not hating, about helping not harming one another. Invite parents to church to talk about how to talk to their children about what happened. Read What Do We Tell Our Children? by Rev. Meg Riley. Provide child care.
     
  • Organize a one-hour sharing circle on your campus, just to let people share there feeling. This may be especially important for college freshmen who may not have their friendship circles established yet.
     
  • Have a neighborhood meeting, offering food and place for people to share. Talk about how you can support each other if things escalate more. Here are some questions you can ask:
     
    • Who lived in this neighborhood; who is here at this meeting? How do we reach those not here?
       
    • Who knows CPR or First Aid?
       
  • Who is alone and in need of contact?
     
  • Who has children that might need extra support?
     
  • How can you address hate crimes that might occur?
     
  • How can you support each other emotionally?
     
  • What material resources or skills are you willing to share?

For more information contact religiouseducation @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012.

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