"We Fight Back with Beauty": Prayers on 9/11 at Tiny Church

The Man Who Walked between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein Tiny Church is a traditional Presbyterian church. Until only a few years ago, they recited the Apostles' Creed every week, so for some of our folks, reciting a different creed or confession every week is bleeding edge. They like printed prayers, organ music, and sitting quietly for a sermon.

But slowly over time, we have mixed things up. We have guest musicians who come in every third Sunday and provide an interesting variety. We've had a clarinet/piano duo, an a capella gospel group, and a variety of singer-songwriters. We're using the piano more---at least once a service. We played "stump the pastor" in May, with written questions from the congregation. And people have started talking back during sermons a little. On Sunday I was telling a story about a family in our congregation (with their permission) and the husband chimed in with some additional tidbits.

Either they are humoring their new pastor, or the genuinely like what's happening---hard to tell, but I haven't seen a single folded arm or glare of disapproval yet.

My goal is not all that profound, and it's based on something that most of us know---people learn in a variety of ways and have lots of different intelligences they bring to worship. Sitting quietly and absorbing the lesson, sitting quietly while the pastor prays, sitting quietly, period, is not the only way to do things, nor is it the best way in a visual, experiential culture.

Sunday night we had our quarterly service for wholeness and healing. At these services we always have prayer stations where people can share a concern with an elder, receive prayer, and be anointed with oil. But I decided to add a few more stations as we commemorated 9/11:


Lighting of candles. We had votive candles in holders on the communion table that people could light in honor or memory of someone. Many people brought their candles back to their seats to keep the light close by. I found this touching and was glad they felt the freedom to do this. Our group was small so we gathered around the table for communion. It was a full sensory experience to have the candles radiating warmth as we shared the supper.


Prayer wall/book of beauty. During my short "talk" I told the story of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, the Caldecott book about Philippe Petit, who walked between the Twin Towers on a 3/4 inch tightrope in 1974. The last page of the book talks about how the towers are gone, but they live on in memory, and part of that memory is the beautiful day on which Petit shared his crazy gift with the city of New York. I also talked about this article by Sally Schneider. She describes the experience of being fed at Mario Batali's restaurant, which was open for business in the days following 9/11. The sumptuous meal felt like "an act of defiance to the repressive violence we had experienced." A friend of hers later said, "We fight back with beauty," and that was the theme I riffed on. I don't often use "fighting" language, but on this day, it felt appropriate, especially with beauty as our weapon. Whatever challenges we might face---illness, a broken relationship, a national tragedy---we fight back with beauty. I think that's what Jesus did too.

I created a prayer station where people could thumb through the book and write a prayer, or describe an act of beauty they are called to enact, and put it on the wall.


"We Will Rebuild." Recently in worship I had a big pile of Duplo blocks on which people wrote their name in Sharpie and joined their piece together with other people's blocks. The theme that day was "city" and the New Jerusalem, so we were considering how we are part of building the kingdom/beloved community. People had fun with that, so I brought out the structure and the extra blocks and had people add to what was there. The instructions talked about how people often say "we will rebuild" after a tragedy, and I asked people to consider what that really means.

It was a lovely service, with a small willing crowd. As I think about these stations, I think that as people get more comfortable moving around and interacting with materials and ideas, I think the prompts will deepen as well. Right now we are in the beginning stages. It's fun to read about what other churches are doing as well.