On this weekday night on the edge of autumn, the Rev. Walt
Gerber's congregation has come by the scores and by the hundreds to
They fill each pew and spill out into the hallways, craning their
heads around pillars and through open doors, each here to make some
sense of the images they have seen over and over again: buildings
destroyed, cities mourning, lives changed.
But on this most trying of evenings, Mr. Gerber has few words to
say. Standing beneath the dark wooden vault of his candlelit
Presbyterian church, dressed all in black, he turns to the Psalms,
to Paul, to the writings of those who have seen the worst of human
hatred - and not lost faith.
More than that, though, he turns to the quiet of abject humility.
"Above all, tonight we need silence," he says. "Don't be disturbed
by it. Use it to seek this still, small voice that God is sending."
Like thousands of pastors, rabbis, and clerics across the United
States, Gerber was called on to provide some sense of meaning for an
event that he himself was struggling to understand. In prayer
services and Sunday sermons, he and others spoke of the need for
trust. They underscored the need for an even deeper sense of unity,
as well as for patience and spiritual strength.
Yet even amid the uncertainty, each sermon was connected by an
unmistakable thread of hope - that, despite the storms of confusion
and fear, peace is waiting for those who seek it with all their
heart, and evil can never be the victor.
"I don't think we've ever met in this sanctuary with such a sense
of need," adds Gerber, "and that is when God becomes real. This is
the first time for many of us that we've had to ask: 'Are these
promises [in the Bible] real?' "
At his service in Menlo Park, Calif., the silence seemed an
enforced respite from the cacophony of cable channels and news
radio that has saturated Americans' lives since the morning hours
of Sept. 11. In a room filled with hundreds of people, often the
only sound was the hum of air conditioners and the creak of wooden
Elsewhere, the message was much the same. "Be still," said the
Rev. Hycel Taylor of Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Ill.
What concerns many of the clergy is not just a potentially rash
military reaction to the attacks on New York and Washington, but
also a hateful reaction against America's Arab-Americans.
As Muslim chaplain of Georgetown University in Washington, Imam
Yahya Hendi is worried about that perhaps most of all. So in his
Friday prayer service, his sermon was as much a statement of Muslim
identity as a religious service. …