A year after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, New York City firefighter Jim Carney presented his pastor with a gift.
“It’s a heavy, steel cross about 18 inches high, fashioned from a beam belonging to Tower One of the World Trade Center,” said Timothy J. Kennedy, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
Jim received the cross as a gift from another firefighter, who crafted it from some of the wreckage at Ground Zero. Both men had been part of the clean-up efforts.
But Jim didn’t keep the cross for himself.
“He gave the cross to me as a personal gift and asked me to do with it whatever I wish,” says Timothy.
Timothy hung the cross in his home, where it remained until three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That’s when he decided to present it to the congregation as a gift.
Too heavy to bear
Initially Timothy thought it would make for a lovely processional cross, “but it’s too heavy. So I went into my garage and found some wood. In a couple of hours, I crafted two tall beams that would invoke the Twin Towers.” He positioned the steel cross in between the beams.
“From my own humility, it came out pretty nicely,” says Timothy.
The cross was dedicated to the congregation during their Sept. 11, 2011, Sunday morning worship services. While Timothy knew the cross would be warmly accepted, he didn’t anticipate the level of emotional response.
As members approached the altar to receive Holy Communion, they spontaneously laid their hands on the cross, which stood at the foot of the altar.
“It was pretty moving,” says Timothy. “Many of our members were on duty the day of the attacks and, thank God, none of them were injured. But their colleagues were. One firefighter from our congregation intimately knew 37 first-responders that were killed that day.”
While the cross serves as a symbol of death and defeat, it is also a symbol of victory and redemption, of forgiveness and love, says Timothy. But forgiveness is difficult.
“Wounds are still very deep among our congregation’s firefighters, police officers and others who lost colleagues, family and friends,” he says. “And in addition to that grief, there are ongoing health concerns among our members who worked at Ground Zero.”
But love is a powerful message, says Timothy. Along with the dedication of the cross and commemoration of the anniversary, it was also Rally Day at Grace Lutheran Church.
“There was a little concern among us about the propriety of having Rally Day on Sept. 11,” he says. “I think the consensus is that while we can’t undo the past, we can commemorate. But it is in Sunday school where our children are taught love. We can share the message that we can move forward and that God will have the last word,” he says, “but we must also teach our children about love.”