A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
The repaired Pentagon building was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2002, a year after the terror attacks. The section struck by American Airlines Flight 77 was a week away from reopening after a renovation. A web-only photo photos courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.
You have to know where to look at the Pentagon to find any sign of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. The limestone shell of the world’s largest office building was repaired in a matter of months after the perfect early fall morning when American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the huge structure.
In the neighborhoods around the Pentagon, however, there still are signs of the fallout of the terror attack 10 years ago. Shops and restaurants are closed; buildings within sight of the Pentagon are empty, some with “for lease” signs posted in dusty windows.
Signs of ministry done in the area are less tangible, of course. But thanks to more than $1.1 million from the United Methodist Committee on Relief in the form of “Love in the Midst of Tragedy” grants after 9/11, United Methodists did ministry and made an important impact in the area.
Right: Members of the congregation of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in Alexandria, Va., gather for a group photo. A UMNS photo courtesy of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church.
In the days and months after the attacks, the northern Virginia area near the nation’s capital was particularly hard hit, says the Rev. Herb Brynildsen, program coordinator for the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference’s Alexandria District.
“Reagan National Airport was closed, the tourist industry declined significantly, and security tightened. Jobs were lost, short-term employment opportunities dried up, identity questioned, foreign-born individuals were suspect.
“The loss of life following the terrorist attacks was tragic,” Brynildsen said. “The loss of our sense of security and normalcy was significant. Our economy shaken; our lives changed. For the most vulnerable — the mentally ill, the homeless, the working poor, the immigrant, the jobless, the underemployed — the effects and aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, were more intensified and devastating. The means to feed families, pay rent, and access to needed health care was lost. The mentally ill were more anxious, and their illnesses more pronounced. People were desperate and hopeless.”
The Rodriquez family was one of many helped by Just Neighbors. A UMNS photo courtesy of Neill Caldwell.
Through a grant to the United Methodist Board of Mission in Northern Virginia, UMCOR brought hope and Love in the Midst of Tragedy to hundreds of “secondary” economic victims of the attacks.
Funding to Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, GRACE Ministries, English as a second language and other immigrant ministries, Just Neighbors legal services and Phoenix Rising meal program of Franconia United Methodist Church enabled these ministries to offer God’s love in concrete ways. These efforts included food distributions; help with rent and housing; assistance with medical, drug and hospital expenses; job training; help with English language; legal services for immigrants as well as assistance in navigating social services, pastoral care, spiritual and mental health counseling, programs for children and youth and worship opportunities.
“Needs were met, hope restored, God’s love experienced in the midst of tragedy,” said Brynildsen. “There are many stories of those who were served and how they have shared their blessings — remembering with joy how God blessed them when they were most desperate.”
The Bi-District (Arlington and Alexandria) Hispanic Ministry told one story of how the ministry had supported an undocumented Guatemalan couple, Carlos and Misleidis. After the 9/11 tragedy, many people were suspicious of anyone who looked foreign. While fishing, Carlos was arrested by police and jailed in preparation to be deported. Misleidis appealed to Mission La Esperanza. The ministry provided prayer, pastoral care, referrals to an attorney and the school where the couple’s children attended and — because of the UMCOR grant — clothing, food and assistance with rent. After a promise of sponsorship from his construction job employer, Carlos was released from jail after six weeks, something that ministry leaders credited to “the hand of God” in their report.
Meanwhile at Rising Hope, a ministry that had been started to help the homeless population of Alexandria’s Route 1 corridor, the church found itself working with people who weeks before had good-paying jobs.
Right: Rising Hope United Methodist Church’s congregation forms a prayer circle around young people (center) traveling along the east coast to raise awareness of immigration issues. A UMNS photo courtesy of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church.
“We used it to bring support to secondary victims who lost work when so much business was suspended in the hotel, tourist, restaurant, travel industry,” said the Rev. Keary Kincannon, pastor at Rising Hope. “Baggage handlers, cab drivers, waiters and waitresses, all lost work. There was a ripple effect down into the very low-income community. We had a surge in requests for food and other forms of emergency support. There was a lot more anxiety among the people we serve, many who already are unstable because of their mental health conditions.”
Rising Hope used the grant money to support the community in very tangible ways: food, prescriptions, utility bills, transportation and support with rent.
The legal aid organization Just Neighbors also received support through a Love in the Midst of Tragedy grant to assist area immigrants who were caught up in the wake of 9/11.
“In the atmosphere of fear and confusion that surrounded immigration issues after the tragedy, Just Neighbors offered reliable information and support,” said Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of Just Neighbors. “Attorneys met with clients and accompanied them to immigration interviews in court. Volunteers assisted with various facets of the work, always demonstrating compassion and empathy for their immigrant neighbors.”
The grant supported several projects of Just Neighbors services, including a staff attorney who focused on assisting immigrant children in the United States who were unaccompanied by parents or adults, and an attorney to assist with employment opportunities and community economic development. The grant also supported Just Neighbors’ ongoing work of holding clinics for low-income immigrants with immigration-related issues. The organization celebrated its 15th anniversary this summer.
“Throughout the years of the grant, Just Neighbors was able to provide life-changing services to hundreds of clients that it otherwise could not have reached,” Rutland-Brown added.
“The weeks and months that followed the attack upon the Pentagon on Sept. 11 were an incredibly challenging time for the people and churches of Northern Virginia,” said the Rev. Steve Jones, who was Arlington District superintendent at the time of the attacks and now serves as superintendent of the Richmond district.
“There were few people, or churches, who did not have a member, neighbor, friend, co-worker or fellow student who lost a loved one in the attack. Our United Methodist churches of the Alexandria and Arlington Districts sought to find ways to help their members and their community. In doing so, it was a tremendous help to have the assistance of UMCOR.”
One of the specific items created with the help of UMCOR was a “day apart” for the clergy of those two districts.
“Our clergy were dealing with countless instances of grief, anger, questioning and depression; many clergy said that it was the most challenging time of their ministry,” Jones said. “With the help of UMCOR, the Alexandria and Arlington districts were able to provide a day to resource clergy through a meal, worship, sharing, education and conversation. It was a small ‘retreat’ in the midst of the chaos of those days. UMCOR provided trained clergy leaders, materials and financial support for this event. It was only the beginning of the help that we would receive over the coming years; our connection gave us resources for faithful and lasting ministry.”
*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine in the Virginia Annual Conference.