The grief has passed; spiritual issues remain
WHILE THE SPASM OF GRIEF AND FEAR CAUSED by the Sept. 11 attacks has long since receded, religious leaders say the shocking events of a year ago have had a lasting impact -- one that the region's churches are addressing in different ways.
Pastor John Ford of Nazarene Family Church in McKinleyville has noticed an evolution in peoples' responses -- from an initial focus on the attacks themselves to a recognition of the existence of a terrorism network in the world. "Now we see there is a pervasive organized terrorism that stands in conflict with the world we live in."
Ford, who has been at the church since February, will be addressing the events of Sept. 11 in a one-year retrospective titled, "What have we learned and where is God in all of this?" He said it would be delivered around the anniversary of the tragedy.
"It's important to discuss, to remind us in life of the blessings we have," Ford said.
Pastor David Holmquist, of Calvary Lutheran Church in Eureka, said that while there were no individuals within the congregation who feared for their own safety, the sense of compassion for those affected by Sept. 11 is still present.
Holmquist said attendance at his church increased after Sept. 11 by about 25 percent. But that has leveled off in the year since.
"So the sense of emergency is over," he said.
One group, however, has had a different reaction to Sept. 11, Holmquist said.
"Teenagers are sick of hearing about it. They don't want a replay of the events," he said. He added that he feels some teens are in denial about the attacks.
Holmquist said that over the past year the church has held studies of Islamic faith. The turnout has been good.
"People want to understand (Islam)," he said.
Inge Leonardos, president of the Humboldt Unitarian Fellowship in Bayside, said her church has also held sessions on Islam. It has also featured speakers on war and peace.
Abdul Aziz, professor of finance at Humboldt State University, leads a prayer group every Friday and Sunday at his Arcata home. The group has been meeting for almost 15 years.
Aziz said the local Muslim community was never adversely affected by the events of Sept. 11. What has changed are the number of people who attend the weekly prayers. Prior to Sept. 11 about five or six Muslims came to Aziz's home. Those numbers have doubled and sometimes Aziz welcomes upwards of 20 people into his home.
"There is a greater interest in the community in knowing what Islam is," Aziz said.
When people come to Aziz's home asking questions about Islam, he always invites them to join in prayer.
"We all pray to the same God," Aziz said.
He added there is another Muslim group, of about five or six members, that prays every Friday afternoon at the Arcata Public Library.
Unlike some cities in California, Aziz said there were no incidents of harassment or attacks on Muslims in Humboldt County.
Recent reports in the news have raised the question of what should be done with the remains of the terrorists who were on the flight that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Aziz said the remains should be returned to the hijackers' country of origin, if those countries want the remains of their citizens.
But if no country wants the remains, then they should be buried in the United States, he added.
The most notable change in the Muslim community has occurred in Ashland, Ore., at the Qu'Ran Foundation Islamic Education Organization (there is no Islamic temple in Humboldt County, although there are 40 to 50 Muslims who live in the area).
According to Pete Sedaq, a spokesman, before Sept. 11 about one to two people a month converted to Islam in the Ashland area. In the 12 months since Sept. 11, just one person has converted.
Even though there has been an increased interest nationwide in Islam, Sedaq said the interest has been more along the lines of "what is wrong with these (Muslim) people?"
"(We are) still seeing evangelists drumming up anti-Muslim sentiment," Sedaq said. "There is an ignorance of Islam."
He added that the media, especially networks like Fox, have helped fan the flames of anti-Islamic sentiment.
"The shock value is what is drawing attention, that's the problem," he said.
He cites a recent Fox program where a correspondent interviewed an alleged Al Qaeda member from an "Al Qaeda jail" inside Afghanistan.
The reporter chose the most naive, ignorant person to interview and asked him intellectual questions, Sedaq said.
Because some of those who make up Al Qaeda are poor and uneducated they tend to align themselves with the radical elements that look upon the United States as their enemy, Sedaq said.
These kinds of reports help propagate anti-Islamic feelings, Sedaq added.
Sedaq is relieved there have been no further attacks on U.S. soil.
"(I'm) thankful to God that we haven't seen anything since Sept. 11," he said.
Rabbi Lester Scharnberg said that after Sept. 11, the Havurah Shir Hadash synagogue in Arcata received numerous phone calls that were both anti-Semitic in nature and blamed Jews for the attacks.
The feeling among Jews is no different than what others felt about the attacks, Scharnberg said.
"We are all horrified and find it appalling to find people can go after innocent people," he said.
As with Calvary Lutheran Church, Scharnberg also noticed an increase in synagogue attendance after Sept. 11.
"People were desperately trying to make sense of the shocking act," he said.
Rabbi Naomi Steinberg of Temple Beth-El in Eureka said the Jewish community is still deeply concerned with what took place last September.
"It certainly (has) remained on everyone's mind throughout the year," she said. "Perhaps more than the general population because Jews here know people in New York affected by (the attacks)."
Pastor Clay Ford, of Arcata First Baptist Church, said that while the shock at the attacks has subsided, some parishioners are still feeling a sense of vulnerability that has led to a sense of needing God.
"Initially (it was) absolute trauma because people could see (the events) on television," he said.
Even though Humboldt County is far removed from the East Coast and sits in a very isolated section of Northern California, people still felt a solidarity with victims in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
The attacks were a wake-up call that life doesn't give a guarantee it will go on without any major problems, Ford said.
Ford has also seen his congregation grow as a result of last year's attacks.
"There is a deep awareness of spiritual need across the country," he said. "Spiritually speaking, this has caused people to be more open in (their) spiritual needs."
More than 100 people showed up at a prayer meeting at the Arcata First Baptist Church held in the wake of the attacks. About $4,000 in donations was raised and sent back East to help survivors and the families of victims.
A family of four belonging to the church moved to Pakistan to help with humanitarian work, such as literacy programs and building schools. Ford says many in the Arcata congregation have been worried for their safety.
Ford said the church the family attends in Pakistan was attacked a few months ago, apparently by Islamic extremists, and some church members were killed. The family was not there when the attack took place.
Even with the acts of violence against Christians, the family has chosen to remain in Pakistan, Ford said.
"We thought they should come home," Ford said, "but they want to stay to do their work."
-- Geoff S. Fein
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© Copyright 2002, North Coast Journal, Inc.