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Churches seek to remember, lift spirits on Sept. 11

Christ Church Oak Brook hosts commemorative Sept. 11 concert 3 p.m. Sunday. The program features church’s Chancel Choir its Brass

Christ Church of Oak Brook hosts a commemorative Sept. 11 concert at 3 p.m. Sunday. The program features the church’s Chancel Choir, its Brass Choir and the Singing Men of Oak Brook. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 23, 2011 3:32PM

West suburban churches are seeking to ease the somber 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks with a variety of programs and messages of hope for a better world.

“There’s complexity. We’re walking a fine line on how our society has changed,” said the Rev. Addison Shields, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in La Grange.

After delivering a sermon on “Living in God’s Grace” and blessing Sunday School students and teachers in the morning, Shields and his parishioners will host an evening of Broadway music. The evening serves to symbolize New York’s recovery and focus on the future, as well as help build church community.

America’s observance of Sept. 11 no doubt will stir up painful memories and lingering questions, which pastors said they continue to address.

“Often times people question where is God in all this, allowing something so horrendous to take place,” Shields said. “Some people have fallen away, not able to get answers to their satisfaction.

“There’s no way to explain that day; it’s just part of the evil of the world. I always bring people back to the cross, to Christ as the only place they find the hope they’re looking for.”

The Rev. Matthew Rogers recalled holding a prayer service the night of Sept. 11 a decade ago at the Christian Church of Clarendon Hills.

“People were asking for help, wondering, ‘how do I explain this to my children that the world is no longer safe,’” Rogers remembered. “There was a great deal of fear, anxiety and uncertainty.”

The following morning, Rogers said he visited neighboring Holmes School and was welcomed to pray with staff members for wisdom in helping students understand the tragedy.

A year later, Rogers’ flock gathered with four other congregations on the lawn of the Community Presbyterian Church of Clarendon Hills, which, he said cemented his focus toward greater community involvement and service opportunities for members.

“Giving blood was the extent of it at first, but then people began reaching out in many other ways,” he said. “It woke us up to the need to be more externally focused in our communities. The reality of that tragedy made us aware we are living in a whole new world.”

The Rev. Hal Kooistra, who will preach on “Hope for Hard Times” Sept. 11, said service opportunities have been important for members of the La Grange Christian Assembly to process both Sept. 11 and their current struggles with the economy and unemployment or underemployment.

“We’ve been giving them different ways to respond,” he said, pointing to mission trips and monthly efforts at Feed My Starving Children, a food warehouse in Schaumburg sending staples to East Africa and Haiti. “It’s such a joyful experience packing tens of thousands of meals in one night, packing with people of all ages and churches.”

While service is important to move forward, so is a deeper understanding of the Muslim faith and its followers, Christian leaders agree.

“A world with less hate and more understanding is a more secure one,” said the Rev. Said Ailabouni, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in La Grange, who grew up in Nazareth in Israel. “If we dwell on hatred, on vengeance, there’s no end to that.

“Some of my children’s best friends are Muslims. My doctor is a Muslim. Once we go beyond the stereotypes, we are surrounded by Muslim people who are our friends.”

Members of the Muslim Education and Cultural Center of America in Willowbrook, too, are eager to foster greater understanding and common ground. They hosted an interfaith dinner for 300 Aug. 10 during the month-long fasting observance of Ramadan with a Christian theologian and a Muslim speaker.

“It was very well received,” said Rany Jazayerli, a board member. “It has become a nice annual tradition for us.”

Jazayerli said the group’s imam, or spiritual leader, plans to give a sermon reflecting the events of Sept. 11 at noon Friday, the main time of worship.

“The imam will directly address the events of 9/11 and remind people of the true teachings of Islam and how perverted those extremists are, how they’ve hijacked our religion,” he said. “We are standing up against extremism, hatred and violence and want to work with other faiths to come to coexistence in a peaceful environment.”

Members of the congregation also are planning to participate in an interfaith observance of Sept. 11 at the Daley Plaza.

Jazayerli said Muslims are concerned about rhetoric, protests and the level of anger in the past few years, but he is optimistic of acceptance from Americans as has been the case with other immigrant groups.

“We do worry that the 10th anniversary presents another opportunity for emotions to run high,” he said. “There is some concern that might lead to fanning the flame of anti-Muslim feelings. Our duty is to make it clear to our fellow Americans we condemn and do not condone from Day 1 not only 9/11, but any violence.”

Beginning Aug. 1, the Christian Church of Clarendon Hills began a 30-day program of prayer for the world’s Muslims to coincide with Ramadan. Speakers also were invited to explain the tenets of the Muslim faith and compare them to Christianity.

After Osama bin Laden was killed, Rogers said he anticipated a lot of emotions to be stirred so he ordered a prayer-study program from World Christian, a missionary outreach program.

“It really opened my eyes to some of the conditions Muslims are living in, the challenges they face, and where they go for hope,” Rogers said.

Christ Church of Oak Brook is hosting a commemorative concert at 3 p.m. Sunday with a mix of inspirational and patriotic instrumental and vocal music at the church at 31st Street and York Road.

The program features the church’s Brass Choir and Devon Hollingsworth, master organist, the Chancel Choir and the Singing Men of Oak Brook.

As an outreach to families, the Hinsdale United Methodist Church is planning a peace service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday of children’s poetry and music performed by the Rev. Osvalo Vena, a seminary professor and songwriter.

“We wanted to make this a family friendly service on such a hard and difficult day,” said Sarah Casey, a seminary intern and student pastor at the church. “It’s going to be really awesome, all music and children’s poetry, focusing on peace.”

In La Grange, Grace Lutheran Church is offering parishioners the opportunity to reflect and write on a prayer wall during the Sunday morning service featuring a witness talk on coping with tragedy.

The Christian Church of Clarendon Hills and the La Grange Christian Assembly plan to show short videos as a time for reflection, memorial and a prompt for prayer.

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