On Sept 11, 2001, the US was shaken. Two planes into the Twin Towers, a plane in PA, and one plane into the Pentagon. It was one of those days that one will forever remember.
I remember that day for a different reason, as well. It was the day that I wanted to quit ministry.
Prior to the first plane hitting the first tower, I had an early morning appointment with my pastor at the time. My first full year of ministry was behind me and I was starting to notice more and more down days (I wouldn’t have my first full blown depression bout until a few years later). I was carrying more and more brokenness with me than ever before.
A Side Note
Some people may not understand that last line, so let me explain just as a side note. As pastors, we are often told ministry is hard because our main members are broken people who recognize their own brokenness and need for redemption and grace. No matter how many times we are told this in seminary, none of us truly believes it. Many seminarians have served on councils or committees and have seen some of the darker side of the church, so how bad can it be? It can be overwhelming at times. Pastors hear many intimate and secretive details in people’s lives and it is a major part of our calling as pastors. I recently did a reflection on my call and when it came to the line of “proclaim the forgiveness of sins,” I wrote that this part is the most secretive part of the call. This section is the trust that people have in their pastors with the darker parts that are not shown on Sunday morning. I won’t go into details, but I can assume most know what I am writing about, if you are a human being.
It is this dark part that pastors, while walking with congregations, carry with them and walk with their members through this darkness to shine the light of Christ. Some dark parts are lighter than others, but we carry them just as much and honor them just as much. The darkness of people, can sometimes get overwhelming and it is the reason why, I think, Jesus often walked off by himself to pray.
I Want Out
Back to the narrative. I, at this stage, did not have the emotional maturity or the self care principles I have now, so the brokenness of others was becoming so overwhelming that on Sept 11, 2001, I was in my pastor’s office saying “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
I was in tears in his office with this admission. I had worked so hard to get there. I had overcome many obstacles in seminary and at that moment, I thought I was failing. I not only doubted my call, but doubted my own abilities to live out that call. I was ready to pick up the phone to the Bishop to say, I want out what do I do?
As I left his office, preparing to do this, I heard and then saw the planes.
I started calling my loved ones, as everyone did on that day. I called people I knew in NY, since it was my hometown, to see if they were safe. I sat in shock looking at two buildings that I was just in a week ago, fall down and were now gone.
A Few Days Later
My partner in ministry at the time, was from NJ, so his shock was just as much as mine. We consoled each other, sat and listened to people who needed to talk, and opened the church for vigils. We took turns being there for people.
We also had a decision to make. We had our annual block party the Saturday after 9-11, were we going to go through with it? We chose to have it, but make it more somber, with more focus on worship and music, than bounce houses and hot dogs. I was to be the preacher at the Saturday service.
So, there I was standing in front of a group of people, some from our church and some from the neighborhood looking for comfort, and I still wanted out probably more than before. I was in serious doubt with my own abilities and for the first time, I was just going to get up and speak without notes without any idea of what I was going to say.
I cannot remember fully the sermon, but it was about the need for forgiveness and the need to pray. I know for a fact that I mentioned the need to pray for Osama Bin Laden and for those that wanted to do us harm because that will come up in just a second. I talked about my own connection to NYC and how hard it was to get the words out about forgiveness, but that is what we were called to do.
After the service was over, I had a woman come up to me. The woman was not from the congregation, but was from the neighborhood. I don’t remember what she looked like, but I remembered what she said- “How dare you!” She didn’t say it, but screamed it inches from my face. “How dare you say I should pray for that goddamn Bin Laden. Who do you think you are?” It continued and continued and continued. It may have only been a few minutes, but in my mind it took much longer.
As I listened or half listened to the woman’s screams, I remember having a thought run through my head, “this is why I chose you.” Now I wouldn’t say God speaks directly with me or anything like that, but it was this nagging feeling that just pulled at me and the thought stayed there through the woman’s tirade.
“This is why I chose you.” *scream* “This is why I chose you.” *scream* “Love her and help her anger. This is why I chose you.”
After she was done. I simply said to her something like- I said what I said because I meant it, even though I didn’t want to hear it. I commiserated with her emotions and feelings and said at times I felt the same way, but this is why I was called to bring forgiveness and grace in the midst of a dark world.
I will be honest that that last part probably didn’t come from my mouth, but are more my feelings now. I did sit with her and we did pray for each other. Now, I recognized that it truly why I was called to do. In a way, the tragedy of 9-11, opened my eyes that light can always overcome darkness and that the word of healing and wholeness must always be proclaimed in the middle of hurt and pain. I was changed in many ways on 9-11, as most of the nation was, but I found out why I was called to be a pastor on that day too.