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9/11 sparks unprecedented ministry expansion for NYC church comment (0)

September 8, 2011

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans flocked to churches only to drop out within months.

But Taylor Field, a North American Mission Board missionary in New York City, had a much different experience. Ten years following America’s deadliest terrorist attack, his church is still experiencing spiritual victories that stem from 9/11.

“The terrorists underestimated how God could use something that was intended for evil to bring so much good,” said Field, pastor and director of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Located 20 blocks from ground zero, Graffiti is a church and community center committed to sharing the love of Jesus through an array of ministries including Bible studies, free meals, English and computer classes, a clothes closet and crisis counseling.

Following 9/11, Graffiti made a five-year commitment to help people impacted by the attack. The effort focused largely on assisting the thousands of service workers and manual laborers who lost their jobs because of 9/11 and counseling people with ongoing emotional trauma.

In total, more than 5,000 people benefitted from those ministries, and Graffiti experienced unprecedented ministry expansion. In 2001, the congregation met in a storefront and had about 20 ministries. Today it owns its own building, has helped start 14 additional churches in the city and has multiplied vastly its network of outreach ministries.

Each year, more than 10,000 people are affected by Graffiti’s work.

“I think that 9/11 was a propulsion for some of that activity,” Field said. “It put New York City on the hearts of many people, including New Yorkers. And pastorally, as I hear people talk about it, 9/11 for some people was a critical turning point in their lives.”

The new building afforded unique ministry opportunities early in the decade as the congregation hired the unemployed to do construction work.

“There are still people that bring their children by our building,” Field said. “And some people that had kind of a low self-concept or not a lot of confidence in what they’ve achieved say, ‘I helped build this building,’ and they want to show their children what they did because they did some part in it and we were able to give them a stipend or say thank you to them for what they did.”

Part of the reason the congregation’s ministries have been effective is that 9/11 made New Yorkers more open to faith, Field noted. It also helped them learn how to stick together in trials, he said.

During the New York power outages of 2003, for example, Field noticed how kindly people treated one another. In comparison, similar outages in the 1970s brought widespread looting and vandalism.

“I remember sitting with a group of people that were in pretty difficult situations and asking why they thought that didn’t happen this time when it did the other time,” Field recounted. “And people, to a person, said 9/11. We learned that when terrible things or difficult things happened, we could stick together rather than fighting each other.”

Personally 9/11 shaped Field’s approach to pastoral care. By working with victims in subsequent years, he learned that people often keep secret their deepest heartaches and need more compassion than is evident. That realization prompted him to have the entire Graffiti staff trained in counseling trauma victims so that they could help whenever a need arose.

“There was a big rush of impact right afterwards,” Field said of 9/11. “People flocked to churches but they didn’t see a long-term impact. But I feel like, looking at it over five or 10 years, I really do see a long-term impact.”  (BP)

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