Reflections on 9/11 on the 20 Year Anniversary

September 10, 2021

Written by Rev. Steve Autrey, Pastor, Denver UMC (Catawba Valley District).

Twenty years ago I was attending an Order of Elders retreat at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC. Close to two hundred of my fellow clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference and I were enjoying a great fall morning in the mountains when word started circulating that something significant was happening in New York and Washington, DC. This was the era before smartphones, and Kanuga was a land with only one ancient TV located in the main hall, far away from conference rooms and lodging; still the word began to spread. Eventually, the retreat was stopped, and we all gathered in that main hall to watch history play out in grainy analog color. Like so many of you that day, we sat horrified by what we saw on the screen. Thinking back on it, I am thankful HDTV was yet to be invented as the horror was already clear enough without high definition.  

It was quickly decided that the retreat was over, and we all needed to head back to the churches we pastored. Driving back, listening to the radio, was one of the most surreal experiences I had ever encountered. I did not have far to drive as I served Francis Asbury UMC in Candler at the time, located just outside of Asheville. As soon as I got home, I turned on my TV and watched the replays of the towers coming down over and over again. The footage of the Pentagon was there also, and reports kept circulating about other targets. As a child of the Cold War era I thought we had won. The Berlin Wall was down and Communism was dead. Who was this attacking our Capital and the heart of our largest city?  

In the midst of the unknown, businesses, institutions, and other public interests began to close. On the bottom of the screen the banners began to scroll, “Asheville City Offices Closed, First Union Bank Closed, Asheville Mall Closed….” and the list went on and on of closure after closure. Our nation, for the first time in my then thirty-one years of life, was seemingly afraid and playing defensive on home soil.  

Yet during the midst of the fear and confusion something else began to happen. Among all of the closings another tide of openings began to rush into the space vacated by business and government. Central United Methodist Church Open for Prayer, First Baptist of Asheville Open for Prayer, and yes - Francis Asbury United Methodist Church Open for Prayer. Churches of all sorts, big and small, and of all denominations were announcing ad hoc services and prayer times.

While others were closing down, the Church of Jesus Christ was opening up to offer courage, solace, and hope during the most desperate of times. There are many images that come to mind regarding 9/11 that we will all be reliving this week. The tragedy and horror are forever immortalized in real time video, and we should never forget nor stop remembering what happened. Personally I don’t ever want to forget that the Church stood up as government and business faltered. The Church opened her doors as a clear statement about where hope resides at all times, but especially in times of brokenness. When things got tough the Church was at her best. This has always been true, because we really are the Body of Christ in this world and sometimes we actually get to see it be so.  

As you remember 9/11 take some time to pray for those who are still deeply impacted by what happened twenty years ago. There are families that will never be whole again, children who grew up without parents, and parents who have grown old without their children. We have fought wars and have asked much of our service members and their families as a result of that day. Pray for all of those families. Pray also that the Church may ever be true to who her Lord is and ask God to forgive us when we forget why we exist. I pray that it will not take another horrific tragedy to shock us into being who we should be each and every day.
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