Religious services comfort community

Members of the Duke community flocked to a series of denominational and interfaith services Wednesday, as part of the University-wide commemoration of Sept. 11.

Participants from all walks of life at Duke seeking to honor the memory of the attacks' victims filled the seats of religious venues and classrooms to pray, to sing, to discuss and to reflect.

"Our read was that this was not a day for speeches and red tape, but a day for remembrance, meditation and prayer," said Dean of the Chapel Will Willimon.

Willimon, along with leaders from several of the University's religious groups, sponsored a variety of events that began with a day-long period of spiritual songs and reflection at the Hospital Chapel. On the University's campus, many students stopped briefly to attend hourly prayer readings by religious life staff in the Duke Chapel.

"During times like these, people surprise themselves in their need for spirituality. Even though I'm not a religious person, I am a spiritual person, and the tradition and sense of community I find at church is a real comfort," said sophomore Claire Herminjard.

The highlight of the morning for many took place in the Divinity School's York Chapel, where Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe professor of theological ethics, delivered a sermon on the religious implications of Sept. 11. Speaking before a crowd composed mostly of Divinity School students and staff, Hauerwas spoke about similarities between the time just after the crucifixion of Christ and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. He referred to both as periods of great darkness "that changed the world for those who long to live without change."

Hauerwas' presentation and other campus religious events met with a mixed reaction.

"Hauerwas's service was the best attended service we have had all year," said second-year Divinity School student Donna McFarland.

"People came to express gratitude that we are still alive when others have perished. Yet, people tend to turn to God in times of tragedy when they wouldn't normally."

While many of the day's participants found a sense of peace in religious activities, others thought they added to the turmoil surrounding the memory of the attacks.

"People come to church looking for comfort. But the Christian message instead poses a challenge. Faith does not take away your problems. Church is not a place to hide from evil," said Austin Hornyak, a first-year Divinity School student.

Campus religious leaders emphasized the interfaith component of the day, and activities were by no means limited to Christian services. The Muslim Student Association held a brief interfaith service outside Building P with readings from the Qur'an, silent prayer and time for discussion.

"Many of the Muslim students on campus have had to bear an extra burden after the attacks of September 11," Sadaf Raja, co-president of the Muslim Student Association, wrote in an e-mail. "In addition to feeling the grief from the horrific attacks, we were forced to constantly defend and explain our peaceful religion.

"We decided to hold a memorial event--for the victims of the September 11 attacks, and also for ourselves; to reflect upon what we, as Muslims, have struggled with over the past year."


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