The morning began with a moving ceremony commemorating the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The tragedy. The heroism. Then the ceremony turned to honoring those who remain on our front lines today. This is how one community near Chicago, through three local United Methodist churches, decided to reclaim 9/11 as a day of hope. A Sunday to honor first responders with an activity fair and opportunities to be in service. A chance to rethink church.
The Rev. Rich Darr, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Ill., said his congregation wanted to “get out into our community and get outside the walls of the church, literally.”
They partnered with First United Methodist Church of Des Planes and New Hope United Methodist in Chicago to create Hope Fest 2011, a day to not only observe the tragedy of 9/11, but to give back through service. Darr said their plans “just mushroomed,” and a total of 52 organizations and more than 500 participants became involved [Flickr album].
It was a “hands-on” day for both kids and adults with police and fire fighters’ equipment, a tour a Life Flight helicopter and experiencing simulated fire fighters training (a training room pumped full of smog to simulate smoke).
The Park Ridge Fire Department exhibited a 200-pound, six-foot I-beam removed from the World Trade Center, and people were encouraged to view it up close and touch it. Jeff Sorensen, Park Ridge’s deputy fire chief, said, “That piece of steel, it’s something tangible. It’s not in a textbook; it’s not something we’re just telling them. They can go up to it.”
After the ceremony, kids, adults and community leaders let their passions and interests lead them to the service projects available – everything from donating blood and learning CPR to assembling “thank you” care packages for local police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency room personnel. For Adina Fountain, the service projects hit home … literally.
Fountain was among a group who provided landscaping for Park Ridge Youth Campus, a facility that houses neglected and at-risk children. Fountain lived in the facility for three years when she was a teenager. “I’ve told all my kids what this place means to me, and one of them is here with me today to help give back,” she said. “Being United Methodist means giving back as much as I can and helping out and believing in someone other than myself. “It’s important that we recapture this day and make every Sept. 11 a day you remember but also try to move forward and do good things for your community,” Sorensen said.
“One of the major ways I connect with God is with service and outreach,” Darr said. “When we are involved in evangelism and helping others in practical ways, it’s a spiritual high.”
Hope Fest organizers are already looking to make their event an annual community tradition. The highest tribute possible is to honor the fallen by demonstrating the strength and pride of community. Watch for Hope Fest 2012!
–Joey Butler, editor of young adult content, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
How are you talking about 9/11 with your children?
More: rethink church
• Hope Fest 'day of service' watch video ►
• Outreach and Generosity In Colorado read story ►
• The United Methodist Church's History of Giving Back read story ►
• More writing by Joey Butler read story ►
Originally Posted: Sep 16, 2011