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Brooklyn Heights September 11 memorial service emphasizes compassion and healing

September 14, 2018 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Members of the Brooklyn Heights Association, their respective faith communities and friends and neighbors participated in the annual Sept. 11 memorial service on the promenade. Eagle photo by Francesca Norsen Tate
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As they have for the past 17 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, clergy and members of the community gathered at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to commemorate the tragedy that took almost 3,000 lives. This year’s commemoration, themed “Down to the River to Pray,” incorporated a ritual called Water Communion, which brought a deeper feel of solidarity among participants. A large number of attendees, including the clergy, chose to participate.

The Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association has organized this annual service each year since 9/11. This year’s participating clergy included the Revs. John E. Denaro and Adriene Thorne, co-heads of the clergy association. Fr. Denaro is rector of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Rev. Thorne is pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Joining them were Pastor Klaus Dieter Gress of Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Clint Padgitt of Zion-St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the Rev. Deacon Bernie Jones of Grace Church Brooklyn Heights, the Rev. Kate Salisbury of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, Pastor Julie Slok of the Danish Seamen’s Church, the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons of First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and Imam Abdalla Allam and Dr. Ahmad Jaber of the Dawood Mosque.

Imam Allam chanted from the Qu’ran verses dealing with compassion and the commandment to those with an abundance to share it with the needy.

Gress, who recently was installed as pastor of Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church, is already very familiar to the community.

“Today, 17 years later, 9/11 still is very personal for me, because I’ve lost a dear friend, Jonathan, who was a member of our church on Henry St. And Jonathan was the babysitter of our son.  To cope with this tragedy we come together on this evening. All day people have shared their remembrances with one another.”

Saying that he and his family visited the World Trade Center memorial, Gress continued, “No one has to be ashamed of tears. Simply uniting with others, as we do right now, is a big step forward dealing with grief. So many people showed incredible humanity, helping others on 9/11 until today. Giving shelter to stranded passengers on 9/11 has become the story of musical, as we know. Today we share stories of faith. What could be a more beautiful and healing act of remembrance?”

That musical, titled “Come from Away,” is based on the true story of hospitality that Canadians in Newfoundland gave to 7,000 passengers of flights that were forced to land outside of the US on 9/11 and the days immediately afterward. Tony nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein are the playwrights of “Come From Away,” which received seven Tony nominations.

Pastors Gress and Clint Padgitt led the Prayer of St. Francis (“Lord, Make me an instrument of thy peace”).

Fr. John Denaro likewise shared how his experience being in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 shaped  his sense of mission.

Calling ground zero a difficult place of pilgrimage, Fr. Denaro said, “I was at work at Trinity Church at the top of Wall Street on Sept. 11, 2001 when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. It was a harrowing day for my colleagues and me, as I am sure you can imagine. When, after the first tower collapsed, we left our offices that backed onto Greenwich Street and headed south through a nightmarish scene of destruction with children from the parish nursery school, the second tower fell and we had to run to keep ahead of the dust clouds that chased us. We made it to the tip of the island where MTA workers urged us to either get on buses to Brooklyn or the ferry to Staten Island, which I wanted no part of… I returned to Lower Manhattan a few days later to serve with other Trinity staff and many volunteers at a respite center for recovery and relief workers at ground zero that had been established at St. Paul’s Chapel. I was grateful to be doing something useful, but long months of daily exposure to everything there took its toll.”

Fr. Denaro accepted a new job offer in Midtown in 2003 to serve the refugee resettlement program of the Episcopal Church.

“So, in the period in which our country was — literally — on a war path, desperate to avenge the terror attacks and turning inward, I began the most mind and heart expanding work of my career in the Church. It was a job requirement for my new colleagues and I to extend compassion and support to people forced to flee their homelands, who had endured what I can only think to describe as their own private 9/11s, and enlist others in welcoming them here.”

Denaro, who has served St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church as priest-in-charge and later as rector, said, “This Sunday we read a Gospel story from St. Mark about Jesus restoring sight to a man who was blind and shouting ‘Be open!’ as he did so. It so happens that the symbol of our patron (or matron) St. Ann is a door and that, following months of closure, our church reopened its doors on Sept. 11, 2001, to many who crossed the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges that day on foot or in busses and sought sanctuary and/or a place to pray.

“Our doors will stay open, but other doors are closing, and so as we return here to grieve the great loss of life on 9/11, to thank first responders and to continue to seek healing that can seem elusive, we need to pray for openness.”

“We must keep our sleeves rolled up and persist in toiling to build the Beloved Community,” to ensure that citizen and human rights are protected, Fr. John declared. “This is the affirming and restorative exercise we need to ready us in this season of beginnings to turn the tide of hatred, division and bigotry, in the name of the fallen and in response to our higher call as faith-filled citizens.”


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