Healing emerges in New York at 6-year mark of Sept. 11 attack


NEW YORK CITY — Six years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, churches in New York City marked the anniversary with remembrance services and continued outreach to those directly affected by the tragedy, but they're also experiencing a sense of healing, pastors said.

"The five-year anniversary, I think, was a real key to the healing that happened," said Kareem Goubran, adult ministries director at Graffiti Church in New York.

"People just felt the weight off their shoulders a little bit, though obviously if you lose a loved one that trauma continues. But still, even there we've seen a lot of healing."

Aaron Coe, pastor of The Gallery Church, a church planted in response to the 9/11 attacks, told Baptist Press he also sees evidence that people in the city, while not forgetting the magnitude of the event, are looking forward.

"New Yorkers are very resilient people, and I just don't see a lot of the emotional trauma that you might expect today," Coe said. "There's still some things, and I imagine there are people who were directly affected with family members who are still having to deal with that, but I don't see that as much anymore.

"When we moved here five years ago, you saw a lot more because they were just coming off of what happened."

To help facilitate the healing, Graffiti Church hired Goubran in the immediate aftermath of the attacks to serve as the church's director of 9/11 recovery. In that role, he implemented a five-year plan to address the needs of people in New York who were directly impacted by the event.

"In those five years we worked on three major components of ministry," Goubran said.

The first two involved grief support and financial assistance to help with associated job losses.

"The third thing we worked on was job development, which was basically, you lose your job, you can't pay your bills, we can pay your bills for one month but better yet if we can help you get a job," Goubran said. "So we started job development where we do job readiness training, computer classes and English as a Second Language classes."

Ministries continue
Though the five-year plan officially ended last year, Graffiti Church continues some of the programs, including a computer class and an English class held even on the day of the sixth anniversary of the attacks. Goubran said that sense of normalcy allows people to pick up their lives, but the church also scheduled a special service to mark the anniversary.

Coe said Southern Baptists took advantage of the opportunities that arose when something meant for evil could be used for good. First came a massive disaster relief effort, then came the church plants.

"9/11 threw open a window of opportunity for ministry here in the city, and the relief effort directly related to what happened at Ground Zero only lasted about nine months or so," Coe said. "The cleanup was done within nine months to a year after the events happened.

"Everything that has happened afterward has been new churches planted as a result. I think 9/11 put New York City on the radar of a lot of people that it wouldn't have necessarily been on, so I think the net result is we've seen a lot of new churches planted. Volunteers have come primarily to help get these new churches started. So in a way it is a part of the relief effort but it's not directly related to what happened at Ground Zero."

Day of remembrance
At The Gallery Church, Coe said they paused to remember the sixth anniversary during worship services on the previous Sunday. They showed a reflection video with some pictures pertaining to the attacks, followed by a special time of prayer.

"Really, our vision for the city is one of wanting to see God move spiritually and kind of rebuild the spiritual climate of the city," Coe said. "So it kind of played along well with the rebuilding that's going on at Ground Zero."

Another church plant in New York, The 411, is celebrating its third anniversary while remembering the attacks. The church, which has about 50 members now, ministers to a transient culture of artists, financial workers and United Nations diplomats, pastor Scott Rourk said.

During the Sunday service Sept. 9, the church hosted what it calls an experiential worship gathering, which involves various stations around the sanctuary where people rotate to address different topics, including prayer for the lost, prayer for the city of New York and reflection on what God has done since 9/11.

To Rourk, the way the church was established is a testament to God's sovereignty because out of the embers of the burning World Trade Center rose a permanent church to reach New Yorkers for years to come.

Symbolic serving
Church members are able to minister to people still hurting from 9/11 because of an ongoing weeding project at Daffodil Hill, which in the days after 9/11 became the headquarters for the Red Cross.

"It's the last place that some people saw their loved ones or were told about their loved ones," Rourk said.

Daffodil Hill was the closest place that anyone could get to Ground Zero right after the attacks, he said, and people still visit the area to tie ribbons on a fence in memory of loved ones lost on 9/11.

"They ask for prayer when we're out there," Rourk said. "They see what we're doing, and they appreciate it because Daffodil Hill was a memorial set up for the families. They really appreciate that we're cleaning it, and we can pray with them."

Like Goubran and Coe, Rourk also mentioned the innate ability of New Yorkers to recover from the terrorist attacks.

"New York is a survivor itself and moves on and is moving on," he said.