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Aftermath of attacks dominates newscomment (0)

January 3, 2002

By Greg Heyman

Few Alabamians — or Americans — will ever forget where they were when terrorists struck America Sept. 11.

The terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., left thousands dead, with cleanup from the disasters continuing into the next year. The attacks themselves and aftermath dominated headlines in the final months of 2001.

For Alabamians, the incidents brought an increase in church attendance, with some sanctuaries open around the clock following the attacks. Churches throughout Alabama also held special services.

“This is a defining moment for this generation of Americans,” Gary Fenton, pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Homewood, remarked during a service held at that church. “We are grieving but we are not in despair. We are hurting but we are also filled with great hope.”

When Fenton made that pronouncement during a Friday afternoon service at Dawson Sept. 14, he did so the same day of a prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Among those attending the service — during which evangelist Billy Graham spoke — were President Bush and four of his predecessors in the Oval Office.

“Yes, our nation has been attacked, buildings destroyed, lives lost, but now we have a choice whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people and a nation or whether we choose to become stronger through all of this struggle to rebuild on a solid foundation,” Graham said.

While Graham offered encouragement, another nationally known minister was not so eloquent in his reaction. Jerry Falwell eventually recanted statements he made that gays and lesbians, abortionists and liberal advocacy groups were partially responsible for the attacks. “All of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen,’” he said.

But Alabamians did not simply hear about the tragedy, they took action by helping with cleanup and recovery. A team of five Ala­bama chaplains traveled to New York Sept. 27 for a week of ministering to relief workers and people in the area, as well as the families and friends of those killed in the attacks.

Five disaster relief team members composed of Alabama Baptists were also involved in a 10-day cleanup and recovery effort in New York. A team from Walker,  Tuscaloosa and other associations also participated in that effort.

Another group of Alabama Baptists, including those from Madison and Marshall associations, worked in New York in the Salvation Army feeding kitchen.

Alabama Baptists who could not travel to New York showed they cared financially. In November, the Birmingham Baptist Association (BBA) presented a check for $70,000 collected from member churches to the Metro New York Baptist Association — the largest from any group.

The check was presented by Ricky Creech, director of missions for BBA, and Butch Henderson, congregational consultant for BBA. Along with the check, they also met with grieving New Yorkers and distributed letters of encouragement written by members of churches in BBA.

“I think it helps that people know there are people in the South who are thinking about the work going on there,” Henderson said.

Following the trip, Creech said he planned to recommend to Birmingham Association’s executive board that that they enter into a five-year partnership with the Metro New York Baptist Association.

While Alabama was left stunned by the terrorist attacks, the state was not immune from disasters within its own borders during 2001. Alabama Baptists also helped with recovery efforts in other parts of the world (see story, page 9).

The fear that hit the nation Sept. 11 with the terrorist attacks was also felt in Alabama in other ways. Some Alabama churches said they reviewed security measures following the attacks, adding security devices and police officers to their church campuses in response to the possibility of additional attacks.

Americans were also left uneasy after a series of letters containing anthrax were mailed to elected officials and network anchors, with others infected with anthrax through a still undetermined source.

No letters containing anthrax were found in Alabama — although police throughout the state were left investigating scares and hoaxes. One of those incidents involved a prank by Samford University student Stephen Downey, who was arrested after mailing a letter containing baking soda.

Another letter reached Birmingham Association Nov. 13 that contained white powder.  While the substance was determined not to be anthrax, the incident is under investigation due to the threatening nature of the letter.

Other acts of violence across the nation were directed at Muslims, but Alabama escaped any real threats of that type.

The terrorist attacks also complicated the plight of Baylor University alumnae Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, who were among a group of foreign aid workers arrested Aug. 3 on charges of preaching Christianity in Afghanistan. Although there were reports in late September that Taliban officials had considered releasing the two women before the terrorist attacks, it was Nov. 14 before they were freed.

While the terrorist attacks were by far the biggest challenge facing the new president, other issues were part of President Bush’s agenda in his first year in office including faith-based education. The president shared his ideas during a visit to Birmingham that included a meeting with 32 of the state’s religious leaders — seven of whom were Ala­bama Baptist ministers.

Joseph Decatur of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was among the Baptist pastors. Decatur said he believes many of Bush’s initiatives can make a difference in whether today’s youth become a contributing part of society or a burden once they are adults.

“These young people, through no fault of their own, often find themselves without parents,” Decatur said, pointing out that strong support from churches can keep youth out of prison when they are older.

Alabama Baptist life in 2001 also included a host of issues such as church closings, the annual state convention, new ministries and other news.

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