Steve Sartori
The Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe speaks words of comfort to the SU community in Hendricks Chapel.

Surrounded in
Love and Support

By Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe

On the morning of September 11, the doors of Hendricks Chapel were opened and a single candle was placed in a tall floor stand at the head of the center aisle. The lights of the chapel burned around the clock, and for the next 48 hours the University chaplains rotated shifts to attend to the needs of students, faculty, and staff. Everyone was in some measure of shock. There were more questions than answers, and many awaited news of their loved ones. In a world that appeared to be falling apart, the Hendricks Chapel staff and chaplains sought to create a place where people could come to catch their breath, reflect, pray, or talk to someone. In moments such as these, the chapel becomes a place of intimacy amidst the complexity of the larger institution. It’s one of the ways SU embodies its core value of caring.
      The afternoon of the terrorist attacks, the University community gathered in the chapel. People needed to be together to draw strength from each other. There also was a great need for accurate information about the day’s events and to communicate the University’s efforts in caring for its on- and off-campus constituents. By 3 p.m. the chapel was already full, and streams of students, faculty, and staff continued to pour in from the Quad. More seats were made available in the choir section, and students sat on the floor, stood in every corner, and sat on window ledges. More than 2,000 people were present.
      Chancellor Shaw and Vice Chancellor Freund spoke to the immediate concerns of the University community, and Kevin Morrow from SU News Services provided up-to-date information about the tragedy. The chaplains offered prayers and readings from the sacred texts of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and the wisdom contained in the texts reminded us that people of other generations had also experienced and reflected on great tragedy. In the face of so much uncertainty, the chapel was a place where we could collectively present our feelings and begin to bring order out of chaos. It was a place for us to once again discover the center that holds.
      In the ensuing days, the Hendricks Chapel staff assisted with several University-wide initiatives. They offered prayers at a student-organized candlelight vigil on the chapel steps, and sponsored a service titled “Standing Together: An Interfaith Response to Terrorism and Violence.” The participants made paper peace cranes, strung them together, and hung them on the front of the chapel. Some chaplains helped address the potential for hate crimes and offered services and spiritual guidance to members of their own faith communities. At times like these, large, unsettling questions permeate a community’s consciousness, and people ask deeper, more difficult questions of their religious traditions. Spiritual formation at these moments is not in the answers, but in the affirmation of the person’s search.
      In the first few days following the attacks, we heard stories of those who had escaped physical harm at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Later, we began to learn of those who had not been heard from—dread was shared by all, and grief was the predominant feeling. By this time, we knew that many SU alumni, family members, and friends had lost their lives. Community-wide efforts gave way to more personal responses addressing individual grief.
      In the spirit of the University as an extended family, I traveled to Lubin House in New York City, and later to Greenberg House in Washington, D.C., to meet with alumni and surviving family members and friends. The hospitality of these centers allowed for human care grounded in the collective experience of having shared life and learning at Syracuse University. I offered spiritual support and a time of remembrance and common prayer. In the wake of these tragedies, it’s been important for people to gather, tell of their experiences, and speak of their loss as a means of beginning the healing process.
      Our nation, world community, and University have begun the long healing process. To assist this, we held an interfaith memorial service on October 8 for the SU and ESF campuses. Again, the single candle remained lit, and prayers, readings, and music were offered. Nearly one month after the day of the terrorist attacks, we were back in the chapel as a community, and this time some of our alumni were connected to us through a live web cast. By this time, we had begun to comprehend the scope and impact of the events, although there were still many questions to be answered and fears to be faced. We lit 43 candles, both in memory of those who had died and in vigil for those still missing. Most importantly, we surrounded each other in love and support.
      No one has remained unaffected by these tragic events. Through gatherings, ritual, and human touch, we’ve begun to remember again that no measure of loss and fear can outlast our human propensity to hope and to live lives of meaning.

The Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe is dean of Hendricks Chapel.

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Main Home Page Contents Chancellor's Message Opening Remarks
Reflections In Memoriam Time of Terror Lessons of Hope
Future Impact Voices

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