My Mother's Prayers and 9/11, by Rev. Constance Pak

My Mother's Prayers and 9/11, by Rev. Constance Pak


A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Constance Y. Pak*

Sept. 9, 2011

A 45-foot-high billboard in the Wall Street district of Manhattan, just two blocks from ground zero, offers passersby in December 2001 a word of encouragement from United Methodists. A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin

Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, was an ordinary, sunshiny day.

I went to my office early and read Scripture. I didn’t know what was going on until my assistant came in with urgent news.

Actually, no one knew what was going on, even after the airplanes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.

Everything happened in the blink of an eye.

I serve a church in western Long Island and had parishioners who worked in New York City. My nephew went to high school a few blocks from the twin towers. Even though those parishioners and my nephew eventually arrived home safely, along with most Americans, I remember Sept. 11, 2001, as one of the most frightening days of my life.

I served as chaplain of my village’s fire department, and my heart ached when my firefighters got hurt at ground zero or their colleagues died.

At the time, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “There is no way to estimate the economic impact to the city, but I believe not only will we work our way out of this, but we will be emotionally, morally, spiritually and politically stronger.”

Here we are, 10 years later. Where have we been and where are we now? Where are we going?

Memories come back to me. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, we conducted a public ecumenical service with the next village. The place was packed. My church was so full the next two Sundays, we had to put chairs in the back. I saw many people I had never seen before, others I had rarely seen. During the services, it was so quiet, so solemn and so grave I could hear the people breathing.

After two Sundays, people began disappearing as slowly as an ebbing tide. By the fourth Sunday, the number of attendees returned to our regular church members. I was deeply disappointed and confused … not because of the shrinking number of worship attendees, but because of the shallowness of our spirituality and general moral integrity.

A return to the way we were

Is this all we are? I couldn’t believe it. I shared my agony with colleagues and found their situations were similar. It was good we were encouraged to go back to a normal life as soon as possible, but were we able to dissipate our pathos, wounds, fears and remorse so rapidly?

Apparently, churches in our village haven’t gained many souls or welcomed back repenting prodigal children because of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, I have given this matter special attention. I asked who had returned to church because of 9/11. I haven’t met anyone who found or returned to his or her faith through this experience.

What are the reasons? Is it because contemporary spiritual people do not trust the integrity of institutionalized religions? Should I think that we Americans have been spiritually, morally and emotionally strengthened for the past 10 years? However, we don’t see it. Is it because people stay outside an unwelcoming church?

I sincerely hope and pray that we are not the same, but that we all have been changed for the better. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave many a good reason to move away from the New York City area. I lost more than 30 families within three years. This exodus greatly shook my parish ministry. Those empty seats have not refilled.

Memories from another time

A strong message from my teenage years still rings in my ears. Three and a half decades ago, my parents decided to immigrate to the United States. They were the generation who experienced the hardest period in modern Korean history – born in North Korea, Japanese colonialism, the Korean War, escape from North Korea to South Korea, political turmoil in South Korea. Certainly, it is understandable that they wanted to take their children to the best place, to America, the “land of opportunity.”

The Rev. Constance Y. Pak joins in choir practice at Lake Ronkonkoma United Methodist Church in Lake  Grove, N.Y., where she is pastor. A UMNS photo courtesy of Constance Y. Pak.

However, my mother told me the most important reason we were going to America was for her family to become better Christians. In her mind, since the United States was founded by Puritans, all Americans were devoted Christians. Therefore, America was heaven on Earth for deepening our faith and becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Of course, as soon as we landed, we realized her dream was an illusion. People might laugh at her innocent, ignorant and even foolish notions! The world might ridicule her. Despite that, this 80-year-old foreign-born Christian has never given up the hope that America will regain its ancestors’ Christian faith, that spiritual awakening will happen. She lifts up unstoppable prayers of hope every day. She has a dream! I also pray that our churches, once again, will become houses of prayer and sources for peace, justice and love in the world.

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly recently fulfilled a lifelong dream as he biked along Route 66 in the United States. He was saddened to see his beloved America had become beige … same shopping malls, same colored cars, same latté and cappuccino shops, same colored clothes, same haircuts. Did the events of 9/11 play a part in creating a society of fear and sameness?

Connolly pointed out that the pink guitars, cowboy boots and glitzy cars are gone. He said it was as though someone had told Americans to grow up.

Did the terrorists take away our sense of fun, our personal and spiritual identity, our hope? In 1961, poet Jenny Joseph captured the American spirit when she wrote about wearing purple after turning 80. Purple is the color of royalty. It is the color of our Savior and King, Jesus Christ.

Let us put some purple back into our lives. The 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, is a good time to rededicate, rediscover and recreate our churches and ourselves.

Let us open our hearts and awaken to the Spirit. Let us take part in fulfilling my mother’s dream. Let us beseech the Spirit to flow and grow in, among and around us all.

See complete coverage of the 9/11 anniversary>>

*The Rev. Pak is pastor of Lake Ronkonkoma United Methodist Church in Lake Grove, N.Y.

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