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September 20 Letter from Rev. William Sinkford: People of Faith Respond to September 11, 2001
Dear ministerial and religious educator colleagues,
These days have been filled with worship services, prayer vigils and memorial services. I know that you've also provided hours of pastoral care, had discussions with youth groups, and tended vital interfaith relationships. In Washington, Boston, and Portsmouth I've shared in the effort. It has been hard and important work.
Though I can't prove it, I believe attendance at churches, synagogues and mosques last weekend reached the highest levels in generations. People are coming to their religious communities for help. I believe that our Unitarian Universalist ministry, your ministry, has served them well.
It's amazing how connected many people are to the personal losses of September 11. Everywhere I go, folks know people who died or are close to those who do. Our world is far smaller and more connected than we have been able to see.
Now, tired as we are, we are called to respond as our nation declares "war." Those dedicated pacifists among us call upon Unitarian Universalism to reject violence of any kind. Their wisdom is great. Which of us can point to a use of violence that truly furthered the cause of peace? Yet there is no consensus among Unitarian Universalists on this issue, no guiding resolutions from the General Assembly. Many, if not most of us, believe at the very least that the perpetrators of terror should be brought to justice.
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 retribution with justice. And that our differing opinions about that action will harm our ministry. It would be easy for us to begin fighting among ourselves as to who is right. Almost every family that has confronted tragedy remembers that disagreement and bickering often follow.
I hope that we can move through this next period in spiritually healthy ways. Can we remember that one of our great gifts is our ability to live in a pluralistic religious community? Can we hold our principled positions until we know what it is we must respond to? Can we imagine a reaction that rests somewhere between pacifism and "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age?" Can we just think, and feel together?
The needs for pastoral ministry will continue even as the debate about our national stance takes center stage. My son is a private in the 82nd Airborne. Some of his fellow soldiers have already moved out to forward positions. As a parent I pray for him...and for us.
The people are coming to our churches. We are called to meet their need, not insist on a particular solution. As usual, ministry is not simple. We are, I hope, up to the challenge.