Attacks swell churches

Published November 1, 2001

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Paul Celucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, bow their heads at a Parliament Hill service in memory of those killed on Sept. 11.

Canadian Anglicans held special services following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and thousands came, including many, from all accounts, who had not set foot in a church for a long time.

Many also grumbled about the lack of mention of God at a special, nationally televised commemorative service on Parliament Hill.

On Friday, Sept. 14, cathedrals and churches across the country held special services, several of them filled to overflowing with parishioners eager to show spiritual support to grieving U.S. neighbours. Churches were kept open for prayer and reflection all week. And at least one joint Anglican-Lutheran service was held.

However, eyeing national cathedral services in both the United States and England, some clergy and Anglicans expressed shock at the absence of an inter-faith service instead of the secular commemorative service held on Parliament Hill.

At that service, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Celucci, figured large on the podium. But no clergy were visible. Government officials said they were seated in a special area reserved for important guests.

A government official defended the decision to keep God out of the service. ?(It) was made at a senior level. It was a commemorative service as opposed to a religious service,? he said.

Clergy for the armed forces were incensed, and fired off a letter of complaint to defense minister Art Eggleton, pointing out that the Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy (ICCMC) had been asked by the government for ?appropriate protocol for a prayerful interfaith response to the terrorist attacks.?

A government spokesperson noted that while only 25,000 had been expected to show up at that service, more than 100,000 attended.

Archbishop Terry Finlay of the diocese of Toronto, called that service ?political correctness gone berserk.?

Bishop Andrew Hutchison of the diocese of Montreal, and secretary to the ICCMC, said it was ?an absolute absurdity in a pluralistic society to banish God from public life altogether. We all saw the wonderful show from the National Cathedral in the U.S. ? this from a country that professes to separate church and state. Here in Canada we don?t have anything in our constitution separating church and state. Instead, God is banished by our politicians.?

He added that in Montreal, there was an interfaith service at St. James United Church and that the church was so packed that people stood outside, listening to loudspeakers transmitting the bilingual service.

In Vancouver, a similar service at Christ Church Cathedral held on a national day of mourning was packed with 700 people inside the church, another 300 listening to speakers in the hall downstairs, and about 200 standing outside on the steps.

In his address at the cathedral, Bishop Michael Ingham said that mourners must let the ?light of hope that is in each of us overcome hatred and fear? at a time when Canada and the world mourn the deaths of thousands of people.

?We can only stand in silence and share in the tears and the pain of those who have lost loved ones,? he said. ?

Representatives of several faiths participated.

In the diocese of Toronto, Archbishop Finlay held an ecumenical Christian afternoon service at St. James Cathedral. Later, he participated in an interfaith service at the University of Toronto, which was organized by students and the chaplain.

The cathedral service, Archbishop Finlay said, ?was jammed. People were really grateful to have an opportunity to express their grief and loss.?

The diocese of Niagara also had a special service on Sept. 16. ?The place was packed,? said Bishop Ralph Spence. ?We border on the U.S. and a lot of our people are heavily involved.? The Episcopalian bishop of Western New York, Bishop Michael Garrison, took part in the candlelit service.

?I?m sure we had people there who had never before been in a church,? Bishop Spence said. ?When you realize that all these bright young people have evaporated, quite literally, it makes people stop and think about the spiritual aspects of life.?

Bishop Spence said church attendance is up in his diocese, and clergy are being asked to speak in schools and at service clubs about the disaster. ?They are giving little mini-services,? he said. ?It is happening right across the diocese.?

Not everyone agreed that the need for solace would start a trend of church-going. ?I don?t see this as the beginning of a religious revival,? said Bishop Tony Burton of the diocese of Saskatoon.

?But it has caused people to re-evaluate their priorities, and to think of the meaning and value to their lives. For the time being, people are re-appraising what matters most.?

Church leaders also waded into the political arena that week, urging a calm and thoughtful response and eschewing the language of war.


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