NYC church opens contest to give 9/11 sermon
NEW YORK (AP) — Leaders of a chapel near ground zero that became a sanctuary of consolation after the terrorist attacks are launching two national writing competitions to foster reconciliation, including one that will allow the winner to deliver an original sermon on Sept. 11.
The Parish of Trinity Church, which includes St. Paul’s Chapel, will award one prize for preaching and six for storytelling in memory of the tragic day.
Trinity’s rector, Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, said the idea for the writing competitions came about because visitors to the World Trade Center site still struggle to make sense of the attacks, more than a decade later. But the competitions are meant to address more than 9/11.
“Communities are having important conversations about violence, racism, and hatred, and how we work towards healing,” Lupfer said. “St. Paul’s is a place of hope for millions of people, and this year we want to commit to asking what reconciliation looks like now, in this world, at this time.”
Lupfer said the storytelling and preaching prizes address the matter from different perspectives, one secular and one theological.
“We, as a religious institution, can ask questions of ultimate meaning and it is our responsibility to ask these questions and to help move the dialogue forward,” he said.
The Episcopal church, known as “The Little Chapel That Stood,” is directly across from the World Trade Center but was unscathed when the attacks brought down the twin towers. It was turned into a makeshift shrine and became a place of rest and renewal for volunteers and responders. Today, tourists from around the world flock to the house of worship where a number of Sept. 11-related artifacts are on display, including memorial banners from around the world.
The winner of the Reconciliation Preaching Prize will deliver an original sermon during a special service at St. Paul’s on Sept. 11. The sermon must deal with reconciliation and address the texts of Isaiah 2:1-4 and Matthew 18:21-35 — texts Lupfer hoped would challenge applicants “to consider what reconciliation means.”
The Matthew reading deals with forgiveness while Isaiah calls for a future without war, where people lay down their spears for plowshares.
“We don’t want a vague sermon about the philosophy of reconciliation. We want to know what it really looks like on the ground in a preacher’s context. The winning sermon will address what reconciliation really is, how it plays out, how it works,” said Emily Wachner, assistant director for Trinity’s liturgy, hospitality and pilgrimage.
The Songs and Stories Prize will be awarded to six individuals for original storytelling, also on the theme of reconciliation. The winners will deliver their prose or poem before a live audience at the chapel on the eve of Sept. 11.
The storytelling entries must be true, of a personal nature and never before published.
The winners also will receive $100 each and be invited to a free storytelling workshop to hone their storytelling skills on Aug. 29. The competitions are open to people of all faiths 18 years and older.
“The goal is to encourage conversation about reconciliation, to open wide the conversation and bring in as many voices in a creative fun kind of environment,” said Wachner.
The parish hopes to make the competitions an annual event.
“People are hungry for hopeful stories from those who have walked the walk and talked the talk of peacemaking,” Lupfer said. “I hope that these stories start conversations, and also that they move people to action.”
Entries must be submitted between July 1 and Aug. 1 and will be reviewed by a committee of religious and lay people.
Winners will be announced by Aug. 24.