How did The Mother Church respond to the 9/11 attacks?
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned clear and tranquil on the East Coast of the United States. Twenty years later, many people throughout the world still remember where they were and what they were doing when news broke that al-Qaeda extremists had hijacked four commercial aircraft on suicide missions targeting New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., resulting in nearly 3,000 casualties.
The Christian Science Monitor immediately engaged with these events, covering 9/11 and its aftermath. The Monitor injected stories of hope and unity into its extensive daily reporting. A September 12 editorial included this:
Now is the time for strength of character—especially restraint, resilience, and compassion—not fear, panic, or trauma. The mental aftereffects of this event should be the nation’s top priority—to show that self-destructive acts of evil need not triumph.
It also cautioned against sensationalizing the attacks:
The media … need to look hard at their coverage and realize they have a role to play in influencing how Americans cope with this tragedy. Media should not seek high ratings or more circulation by focusing on trauma and death. Rather, now is the time for journalists to rise to the occasion and provide reports that show how survivors have the resilience to cope with this loss.1
The Monitor continued to report on 9/11 with this focus in the days and months that followed. For example, “Why do they hate us?” examined how US military presence and increasing influence in the Middle East had caused resentment and distrust.
The Christian Science Board of Directors shared a A Prayer, published in the Monitor on September 17: “We pray to understand the vision the Almighty has already given, and the spiritual resources He has spread upon us, to temper the winds of grief, and to enrich our capacities to live with each other in honor, trust, respect, and affection, day after day after day.”2
In the days after the attacks, The Mother Church quickly organized its departments to meet the moment. On September 12 people gathered on the Christian Science Plaza in Boston for a healing service. Two days later, a public vigil was held there for victims by the large reflecting pool. Attendees that night placed candles in the pool to honor the innocent victims who had lost their lives. This event, which included music and community singing, attracted hundreds of participants. One of many such services held throughout the US, it was featured in a number of national news reports.
The Mother Church’s website, at that time known as spirituality.com, invited people around the world to reflect on 9/11 and to share inspirational messages. Visitors to the website gathered daily for five minutes, for 30 days, in an international prayer vigil.
When news of the attacks came, the Christian Science Sentinel staff was wrapping up its next issue for release to the printer in just a couple of days. Watching television news that morning from their offices, they recognized the urgency of the situation and set about planning a replacement issue responding to what had just occurred. Usually this would have happened over a period of weeks. But with help from staff members of The Christian Science Journal, and others in departments of The Mother Church, they reached out to a number of contributing writers and created all the necessary new content. That revised Sentinel, dated October 6, came together in just a few days and met publication deadlines. This resulted in a revamped production schedule that telescoped future lead times for publication and made the Sentinel significantly more responsive to current events.
“In the shadow of the WTC” offered Chris Meyer’s firsthand account. He had just left the subway station on September 11 when the first plane hit one of the twin towers. He described how he prayed for everyone in the buildings and in New York City:
… the moment we saw someone jump from high up in the building…. I just dropped down on the sidewalk and started praying. Automatically, I went to the Lord’s Prayer…. It was hard. I’d be saying the Lord’s Prayer, and I’d get to “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” and then I’d see someone jump. It just makes you gulp and pound the ground…. I was determined to do all I could to recognize our Father-Mother God up there with them, because that’s what I would want if I were up there. I would want to feel that there was a divine presence there with me, comforting me and protecting me.3
In “Voices of compassion heard on the street,” two Sentinel staffers spoke to passersby in the Back Bay section of Boston where The Mother Church is located.
The Christian Science magazines continued their response in the weekly Sentinel, monthly Journal, and various editions of The Herald of Christian Science, providing articles and personal accounts of hope and healing from individuals around the world. These included letters of loving support from various countries and interviews with Christian Science practitioners, including an ongoing feature in the Sentinel, “Prayers for Peace.”
An example of this sustained approach were two articles focused on the experience of US Army Chaplain Janet Horton, who was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and helped care for the wounded. The first was an extract from a piece in The Washington Post reprinted in the Journal three months after 9/11; the second was a longer article by Horton published to coincide with the first anniversary. Her words mirrored the impact of September 11 on many people, including Christian Scientists, their church, and its activities:
I will never be in the same place I was a year ago. I am wiser in my prayer. I am more alert and more clearly at a position of attention, spiritually. I am listening to God. My eyes are focused forward.4