Pastoral Letter to Online Unitarian Universalists: People of Faith Respond to September 11, 2001
Our faith and our souls have been tested in the past three weeks. Like most of you, my emotions swing from uncertainty to sorrow. But I am filled hope when I think about the outpourings of love from our faith community. So I'm writing all Unitarian Universalists (UUs) whose email addresses we have to share my gratitude for your responses to this crisis, my thoughts about the challenges ahead, and my suggestions about resources that might be of use to you. Since I don't have email addresses for every UU, would you please forward it to others who might appreciate it and post a copy at your congregation or ask for this to be sent out in your congregation's newsletter? Thank you.
Our sense of safety has been shattered. Still, UUs everywhere have taken the tragedy as an opportunity to start coming to terms with the brokenness in our world.
Our congregations have reached out to the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities with a common voice that declares, "We will stand with you." In one of our congregations, the members have started to walk fearful Muslim children to school. Across the land we have been offering help and sanctuary to those who are being unjustly profiled.
Moments after the attacks, all of us who work for you at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) tried to imagine how we could be most helpful. I was in Washington and immediately reached out to the Muslim community. The American Muslim Council sent my message of support to over 14,000 Muslim congregations in the U.S. We issued a letter in support of the Sikh community as well. A Sikh leader tells me that in every instance of violence or harassment of Sikhs she knows of, UUs showed up to support those who were attacked.
The UUA staff immediately began reaching out to congregations and their leaders. Our web coverage and support for congregations began within three hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Within thirty-six hours our website had religious education resources on the web, and an electronic bulletin board for people to share their experiences with lay and clergy moderators, and first-person accounts from our New York-based clergy. Not long after we began to provide additional worship, counseling and musical materials for downloading. We've tried to offer both support and concrete suggestions for action.
I'm proud of what we've done so far, but there are challenges ahead. Our religious community has come together in remarkable ways around the shock, fear and grief caused by September 11. There is danger, though, that our nation will confuse vengeance with justice, and that our differing opinions about that action will threaten our sense of community. It would be easy for us to begin arguing among ourselves as to who is right. Can we remember that one of our great gifts is our ability to live in a pluralistic religious community? Can we moderate our principled positions until we know what it is we must respond to? Can we just think, and feel, and be together as a religious community?
People are looking to the churches. Our sanctuaries, like those of all faiths, have been filled to overflowing. Professional and lay leaders in our congregations have been working overtime to provide many extra services in addition to regular programming. Talented church musicians have written uplifting songs and selected pieces to bring us together. And our administrators have managed communications during these frantic, never-ending days, with calm and skill. They are doing this with less volunteer support than usual because so many of us are distracted and need to attend to our own needs and those of our families. There will be more stress ahead when we feel the effects of job lay-offs and military deployment. Please remember that one way to make a difference in this crisis is to help out in your congregation.
I'm working with the UUA staff to help you and your congregations with the challenges ahead. We are asking district staff to encourage mutual support and coordinate regional responses. And I am making myself as available as possible. To continue to help in every way we can, I'm listing some resources we have ready on our website that you can link to immediately.
Please be kind to yourself and one another through these days. There will be a long struggle ahead to reclaim the gentle spirit, and we need all the positive Unitarian Universalist energy we can muster.
- The section of our website devoted to the events of 9/11/01 has received more than 13,500 hits in its three weeks on our site—full of useful information, communications from our religious leaders and faith partners around the world as well as stories of the spirit and means of lifting up community.
- Worship resources are available from two sources: a compilation by Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and submissions by our ministers.
- Let us support our children in these difficult days. Three links are relevant: first, materials on Religious Education; second, a piece submitted by Lee Sanchez, "Helping Children in Response to Today's News;" and finally, Meg Riley's wonderful reflection, "What Do We Tell Our Children."
- Inspiration in the stories of others and a remembrance of those UUs who died in the tragedy—read stories of ministry from New York and "In Memoriam."