Bangor area faith groups gather for 9/11 remembrance

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 7:58 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 12, 2011, at 5:25 a.m.

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BANGOR, Maine — It was billed, somberly, as “a gathering of remembrance and hope.” But the 10th anniversary commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, held Sunday afternoon in the auditorium of John Bapst High School, felt at times more like a gospel revival.

“The way to change the world is to actually participate in the change,” pronounced African-American Jewish gospel singer Joshua Nelson, drawing whoops and applause from the appreciative audience of about 200. Moments later, Nelson, a recent favorite at the American Folk Festival by the Bangor Waterfront, launched into the old-time gospel classic “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”

While some people feel the song glorifies war, Nelson said, it’s really about “tearing down the walls of bigotry, the walls of racism and poverty.”

Nelson’s music, which included a conga-line-inspiring version of the Hebrew text Mi Chamocha — Who is like thee? — provided a lively highlight to a service otherwise marked by solemnity and introspection.

Spiritual leaders from seven local churches and synagogues participated directly, leading the audience in a responsive reading aimed at honoring the grief of the 9/11 attacks and the world’s progress toward healing since that day.

The event drew Christians, Jews, Muslims and others from around the Bangor area.

“Today we are gathered together from our different faiths so we can act together to build our societies,” said Jenan Jondy of the Islamic Center of Maine, located in Orono. “Hope is where it begins.”

David Ulrich, who worships at St.John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, hoped the service would help develop a sense of connectedness between faith groups.

“Community is really important to me,” he said.

Peggy Day, a social worker from Old Town, said efforts to increase understanding and appreciation of diverse cultural and religious traditions are important.

“We live in a violent society,” she said. “We all need to do more to educate each other about our values.”

Amity Olmstead of Bangor arrived with her 4-month-old adopted African-American son Charlie in a stroller. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” she said of the 9/11 attacks. “What keeps coming back to me is what a different world my son is growing up in.” Olmstead, who is Jewish, said the “anti-Muslim hatred” that emerged after the attacks has undermined her sense of security and her assumptions about racial and ethnic tolerance in the U.S.

Seated with his extended family was Dr. Ahmed Rahman, director of cardiac anesthesia at at Eastern Maine Medical Center. Rahman, who has lived in Bangor for about seven years, is a member of the Islamic Center of Maine and said he feels the Bangor area is a welcoming community.

Still, he said, there are many misperceptions about “the peaceful religion of Islam.” He said he and other Muslims in the community should look for opportunities to share their spiritual beliefs with others.

The gathering lasted for about an hour and a half, with closing remarks provided by Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregation Beth-El and Captain Tim Clark of The Salvation Army. Food donations brought to the event were for the benefit of the Hope House shelter for the homeless.

More than 20 area houses of worship were involved in planning and supporting the service, according to the Rev. Stephanie Salinas of the First Baptist Church of Bangor.

“We all felt there was a lot of fear and worry in our community right now,” she said. “We need something tangible to hold on to, and the biggest thing faith can provide is hope.”