Church Responded to September 11 Events With Prayer, Outreach [Main Story]
he immediate response by leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was prayer—for the victims, for the survivors, and for the country that is home to the General Conference.
Don Schneider, at the time president of the church’s North American Division, was sitting in a meeting of the church’s Administrative Committee, or ADCOM, when the news came.
“I was in ADCOM when someone came running in, saying an airplane hit one of the Twin Towers,” Schneider recalled. “I was sitting right near [General Conference president Jan] Paulsen, and within a moment or two he put a whole different thought in my head. I thought some wandering pilot just made a mistake. Immediately he understood it was way more than that.”
Schneider added that after the news, “it wasn’t much of a meeting anymore. For the rest of the day we had the television running and trying to think what we would do.”
Adventist congregations all over the nation flung open their doors for spontaneous prayer meetings. Soon after the tragedy the South Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church in Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles, held a special worship service to honor and pray for “first responders” in the community.
“The very next Sabbath, I was in New York City for special prayer services,” recalled Ben Schoun, then president of the Atlantic Union Conference and now a general vice president of the world church. He recalled the desperation and heartache of those days.
“I met some people who had lost loved ones at that time,” he said of Adventists in New York City. But, he added, there was a difference between those parishioners and the general populace: “[Other] people were frantic; they were at the end of their rope. But when I met our people, they were grieving, but they weren’t in despair.”
To Schoun, that response was “one of the strongest evidences of how faith in God helps people cope” in times of tragedy. The Adventist community’s demonstration “of solid and communal prayers made such an impact on me,” he said.
For both Schoun and Schneider, the path forward was clear: community service efforts to help those affected, but also Bible studies and one-to-one evangelism, particularly in New York (where, as Schneider recalled, “there will never be another time when New Yorkers are looking for God as much as they are now”) in those weeks and months after September 11.
Many efforts were undertaken, but, as Schneider said, “I feel like we could have done so much more there.”
Today, as a pastor in Denver, Colorado, Schneider continues one lesson he learned from September 11: trying to do outreach to families in the immediate vicinity of the church he now pastors.
As Marti Schneider, Don’s wife and a church planting leader, says: “That same concept has influenced me here in Denver. We’re inviting members to ‘own’ a street. Anything we’re doing, Don and I go to that street and knock on doors, and make friendships. That’s because of what we did as a result of September 11. It has never left me, this concept of ‘we own these people for God.’ ”
—Mark A. Kellner is news editor of