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The Church that 9/11 Built
Jeremy Del Rio
September 11, 2001
, my father found himself at the scene of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s soil. After FDNY chaplain Father Mychal Judge died on the scene, my father was the only identifiable clergyman at Ground Zero that day. And the magnitude of the devastation overwhelmed him. The normally outspoken and opinionated
Pastor Rick Del Rio
had nothing to say. Nothing.
So instead of talking, he rolled up his sleeves. He worked alongside fire and rescue workers digging through debris and assembling a triage unit across the street from the Pile. But mostly, he prayed. Quietly, but loud enough for others to hear when they requested him.
And many of them did, beginning with the first person he saw after parking his motorcycle a few blocks south. A uniformed worker approached carrying a body bag. “Father,” he cried. “Please bless these body parts.”
It wasn’t the time to debate the theology of praying for the deceased, to preach a sermon or to stage a call to repentance. Rather, my dad prayed for all who asked, for the families who had lost loved ones and for the safety of the rescue workers. Then he went back to sweeping, digging, lifting—whatever needed to be done.
There, at Ground Zero, my father learned something that transformed how he, a preacher and evangelist, approaches ministry—especially in times of crisis. Sometimes the Gospel is best shared not by what we say but by how we live. When the unthinkable happens and lives are needlessly shattered and horrific events defy explanation, talk is cheap. When you are surrounded by crumbled buildings and body bags, pat answers and cliches of comfort become wildly insufficient.
What matters in crisis is whether we have the courage to show up, exhibit character and compassion, and endure to the end—whatever the end might be.
The Kingdom of God arrived on earth as it is in heaven in the person of Jesus 30 years before he ever opened his mouth to preach. He lived among the people he hoped to save, serving them and earning the right to be heard when the time finally came to reason together.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I observed something among New York City’s churches. A catastrophe of this magnitude forced the Church to confront the sad reality that we were too disconnected from each other to be a useful partner to our city during a crisis. We weren’t a unified force, so the city didn’t initially call us for help. And it’s impossible to mobilize 7,000 churches quickly when they aren’t already connected and coordinated. In the weeks and months that followed, pastors and church leaders had to repent for being lone rangers and intentionally link arms during the common crisis in order to respond effectively and be Christ to a city that was collectively grieving in unprecedented ways.
The magnitude of the 9/11 attacks and the scope of its impact require a Jesus who is far bigger than any one ministry or personality to heal. We had to learn that such healing requires all hands on deck, all churches joining together.
It wasn’t a pretty weakness to come to terms with, but it was necessary for us to grow.
Twelve years ago, September 11th
changed our ministry
forever as it opened doors for public-private partnerships, interdenominational partnerships, regional and national partnerships and so much more. It created an unprecedented opportunity for churches to be The Church—together as one—in our city when it needed it most. The attacks sparked a season of prayer, and buried in the rubble, we are seeing the seeds of revival. We have begun to glimpse answers to those prayers.
When crises come, Christ’s Kingdom requires its ambassadors to be present and available. To be first responders at the scene of the crisis, ready to serve whether it’s through prayer, comforting, search and rescue or assembling triage units. Then, may the world see that this is how the Church acts when tragedy strikes.
My prayer for the Church on this 12th anniversary is that we would recapture what it means to love each other in such a way that the world will know we are his disciples.
For more stories on how Christians and the church are contributing to the common good and flourishing of New York City, join Jeremy Del Rio and 12 other leaders at
Q Cities: New York City
on October 9, 2013. Hear expert presentations on local matters from education, tech start-ups, homelessness and urban planning to sanitation, the church and fashion, Broadway and finance.
and be introduced to the ideas shaping New York City.
Editor's note: Photo taken by
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