From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Presbyterians stranded in Ireland were welcomed with warmth,
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
19 Sep 2001 16:51:04 -0400
Note #6854 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Presbyterians stranded in Ireland were welcomed with warmth, compassion
Group had been studying Islam in Jordan
by Evan Silverstein
LOUISVILLE - A brief layover in Ireland turned into a long journey home for
a dozen Presbyterian pastors who were stranded there on Sept. 11, hours
after deadly terror attacks in New York City and Washington, DC.
"It was an odyssey," said the Rev. Teri Thomas, one of the PC(USA)-related
ministers grounded in Ireland. "It was terrifying, and it was just really
hard not being (in the United States)."
The stranded ministers said the people of Ireland were openly "weeping" for
America on one of its darkest days. The warmth of the Irish profoundly moved
the American delegation, spiritually and personally.
"It was overwhelming the compassion and the sympathy the people expressed,"
said Thomas, the general presbyter of National Capital Presbytery in
Washington. "They wanted to do something, too. Their answer was to take care
of us. It was unbelievable."
Together with a few ministers from other U.S. faith groups, the pastors were
returning to the United States from Jordan, where they had been since Sept.
2, touring holy sites and learning about Islam. Their pilgrimage was
sponsored by The Friends of Jordan, a Presbyterian-founded ecumenical
organization that tries to improve relations between Muslims in Jordan and
"It was just prophetic," said the Rev. Jack Wineman, interim pastor of First
Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA. "Our tour guide was telling us before
(the terrorist attacks) ever happened that, 'The violent ones are not who we
are. That's not the practice of the Muslim faith. That's not following the
Koran. That's extremism.'"
After poking around Biblical sites and "bonding" with their Muslim hosts,
the ecumenical group departed Amman, Jordan, early on Sept 11- just hours
before terrorists crashed commercial jets into the World Trade Center's
signature twin towers and the Pentagon.
By the time the pastors' Royal Jordanian airliner landed in Shannon six
hours later, to refuel, both Trade Center towers had collapsed, the Pentagon
was aflame, and a stunned world watched in horror. With air traffic grounded
in the United States and Canada, the one-hour layover in Shannon lasted up
to five days for some, and changed the lives of each group member forever.
"We had this terrific 'high', if you will, as we left and said goodbye to
all of these people (in Jordan)," Wineman said of the group, which was
unaware of the terror strikes until deplaning in Ireland. "And then the same
day to have this happen, five, six hours later, we were just devastated."
The terrorist attacks hit close to home for the Rev. J. Robin Bromhead,
pastor of Centreville Presbyterian Church in Centreville, Va. He discovered
after landing in Ireland that a member of his church, and a neighbor, was
missing following the strike on the Pentagon.
"It was just a total shock and disbelief," he said. "It was almost as if I
could hear my thoughts saying, 'This can't be right. There's a mistake
Missing in the Pentagon debris was Canfield "Bud" Boone, 53, who was
recently promoted to a full colonel in the Army, and worked in personnel. He
and his wife, Linda, had been members of the Centreville church for at least
six years. The church is about a mile from the Pentagon. The Boones had
three children together: Chris, 23, Andy, 21, and Jason, 18.
On Friday, Bromhead phoned Linda Boone from Ireland to console her, a
difficult task under unreal circumstances that made Bromhead "break down"
from emotion after the call.
"I had much rather been there in person and talking with her, rather than
trying to minister over the phone," Bromhead said from Virginia on Monday,
as he prepared to inform Linda Boone that her husband's remains had been
found. "(I wanted to be there) just to see what her facial expression was,
in terms of what were some of the most difficult dimensions of this for her.
I think not knowing the exact outcome at that point was something that was
very, very difficult for her."
Other Presbyterian pastors traveling with the group were: the Rev. Lynne
Faris, associate pastor for outreach at National Presbyterian Church in
Washington, DC, and the the Rev. Graham F. Bardsley, pastor of Warner
Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, MD. Also present was the Rev.
Fuad Khouri, pastor of the Arabic Church of the Redeemer in Washington, DC,
an international immigrant group that has formal relations with National
Presbyterian pastors from New York and North Carolina also joined the group,
as did Arthur Murphy, a National Capital Presbytery staff member. A few
United Church of Christ ministers and Catholic priests also were part of the
"There was enormous frustration, in the sense that we wanted to be with our
families and we wanted to be with our congregations that were hurting," said
Bardsley, who along with Khouri founded The Friends of Jordan. "It was just
a feeling of total helplessness."
Tears and shock gave way, however, to comforting and support from the
group's new hosts - the people of Shannon.
"I mean the people in Ireland were absolutely unbelievable," said Wineman,
who is married to Thomas, the general presbyter of National Capital.
"They came up to us saying, 'Do you have a place to stay? Can we feed you?
What can we do for you? This is awful. Words can't describe how bad we
Wineman said waitresses at restaurants would "weep for us," and the Irish
government declared Friday, Sept. 14, a national day of mourning.
"Everything was shut down in Ireland," he said. "You couldn't get anything
in Ireland on Friday - everything closed. I'm not talking three minutes.
They did the three-minute thing. But they closed for the whole day."
The group attended a packed prayer service and memorial at a local Catholic
church in Shannon, where members built a shrine in front of the altar,
complete with the World Trade Center, a clock stopped at the time of the
first attack, and candles everywhere.
"We sang, we prayed, we had acknowledgements of sympathy and sorrow, and
that sort of thing," Wineman said. "And then we walked out through this
crowd of people. It was spontaneous, everybody just wept."
The service touched Thomas like no service ever had before.
"It was the most powerful worship experience I've ever had in my life,"
Thomas said. "It was so moving, and it was the people. It was their
compassion and their tears, and a feeling that while we were so far away
from home and the people we loved and cared for, we were surrounded there by
people who didn't know us, but loved and cared for us."
Wineman said worshippers approached the group later in the church parking
lot with hugs, tears, condolences and the "most wrenching, most powerful
expression of solidarity and of sympathy and of real humanity."
The trip home, which for some in the group started shortly after midnight on
Sunday, was grueling. It took Wineman, Thomas, Bromhead and others nearly 30
hours to make their way from Shannon to Washington - including a 10-hour
drive from Toronto, Canada.
"That was hard," Thomas said of the return trip. "I paid a lot of attention
to the people getting on the plane. Usually I start reading my book and
ignore it, but this time you looked at people. It's terrible, the suspicion
it raises in your mind. But it's also the only plane I've been on where they
applauded when we took off and they applauded when we landed."
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