9/12/01: Cities join in prayers for peace
This story originally appeared on Sept. 12, 2001.
In Champaign-Urbana as across the land, churches, synagogues and other places of communal sharing filled to overflowing Tuesday night following the worst terrorism attack in U.S. history.
They came in work clothes, in ties and T-shirts, blue jeans and tank tops. And the message most commonly delivered was an appeal for peace.
At First United Methodist in downtown Champaign, the giant sanctuary was filled with Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians among other denominations.
One participant, University of Illinois student Jody Craft, had to ask directions to the church, but she said she knew it was where she should be.
"I'd feel guilty doing anything else tonight," she said.
The Rev. Terry Harter read from Psalm 52 and spoke of the need for spiritual security against the evil visited upon U.S. citizens and their institutions.
"The greater is the evil, the greater is the need for You," Rev. Harter said. "Make us Your instruments of peace."
About 200 people showed up on the University of Illinois Quad at 8 p.m., convened by campus ministries.
Students sang folk songs like "Amazing Grace," lit candles and sat in prayer groups.
"It's one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen," said Jackie Lustig, a sophomore in speech communications.
"The warmth, the spirit. It's really wonderful. It feels good to be around people who are experiencing the same pain," said her friend Rebecca West, a sophomore in health administration.
Brent and Julie Johnson, UI alumni who now work at Human Kinetics, brought their 5-month-old baby, Adam, to the prayer service.
"My father lived through Pearl Harbor," she said. "Now I can sort of understand how he feels.
"It helps to be around a lot of people."
For aviation major Aaron Carlin, who intends to be a pilot, the use of four passenger jets by the terrorists to wreak havoc was unsettling.
"The ease with which they were able to take over those planes scares me," he said.
Community and prayer were important tools for junior Molly Lauhoff in coping with the tragedy.
"I believe prayer works. I don't know what else I could do about the situation," she said.
Speakers called for the United States to forgive enemies. But Lauhoff said the nation would have to consider military options, too.
"It's hard to know what to do until somebody takes responsibility," she said.
"I just hope Arab-Americans don't have to take the brunt of the blame for this. They're blameless," Julie Johnson said.
At St. Patrick's Parish in Urbana, the sermon from the Rev. George Remm was from the story of Cain and Abel, of brother killing brother, and of the need to move beyond resentment and anger.
"Until we acquire this perspective, that I am my brother's keeper, hatred and resentment will prevail," he said.
Jesus said to love your enemy and pray for your persecutors.
"This is no easy pablum tonight," Remm said. "Humanity is running away from real brotherhood."
An overflowing church sang "Oh God of Every Nation." One stanza states: "Where hate and fear divide us, and bitter threats are hurled, in love and mercy guide us, and heal our strife-torn world."
In Vermilion County, services were held in Danville, Hoopeston, Rossville, Catlin, Westville and Georgetown.
Jean Burke of Danville was one of the 100 or so people attending a service at the Ridgeview Baptist Church in Danville.
"I think it's important for us to show our unity as a nation," said Burke.
Burke, a state worker who was sent home from work Tuesday, said that the attacks hit close to home for her.
"Whenever our local offices are closed, you realize how vulnerable we all are."
Betty Miller of Danville said she came to offer prayers for the victims and their families. She also planned to offer a special prayer for her grandson, Eric, who is serving in the military in Italy.
Sandie Watson said she and her husband just felt they needed to be at church.
"When it's beyond your scope of understanding, you need to turn to a higher source," she said.
During the service, Ridgeview Baptist Church Pastor Dave Garver and a number of people in attendance found comfort in the Scriptures. They also took up an offering, which will be donated to the Red Cross.
They offered prayers for the victims and their families, those who are still unaccounted for, the emergency workers and medical personnel, the president and nation's leaders and for themselves.
"All of us are feeling a great deal of shock ... and a sense of loss," Garver said. "Someone that was loved has been killed today. ... and we have lost a sense of security. We know that if this can be done in our land, we are vulnerable."
Garver said the attacks "show us that evil is very real."
"But good will prevail," he added. "We will not allow terrorists to take away our lives. We will not allow fear to dominate our lives. We will go on. We will not allow this to destroy our freedom or our nation."
In Danville, Congregation Israel met in a special service with 30 people, nearly its entire congregation in attendance.
"We meet tonight in memory of those who perished in the terrorist attack in lower Manhattan today," said member Max Sperling, his voice breaking with emotion.
"Our congregation was founded by immigrants from Eastern Europe. They came to love America, as do we. They passed that feeling along to us."
After prayers, Neal Ehrlich, president of the congregation, asked the people to share their experiences from the day and any news of friends and family and to pray for the victims, their families and all the others who will be touched in days to come.
"Today we've lost a certain part of the freedom we've always known," said Al Pontecore. "But I know the government will do the right thing."