On the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks our youngest son, Andrew, who was 15 at the time asked us, “Will this change our lives?” While we wanted to say, “No,” we understood that we had entered a new era of uncertainty.
Last Sunday, on the tenth anniversary of that fateful day, my wife and I participated in the launch of the Richmond Faith Forum at St Paul’s Episcopal Church, where we have been members since coming to Richmond thirty years ago. The forum’s mission, says Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, is to “live, laugh, and learn together.”
Richmond is fortunate that relationships between faith groups have withstood the test of the pressure of world events over several decades. In 2001, faith leaders claimed unity and many people in the Richmond region reached out to support the Muslim community. A group of Muslims and evangelical Christians have sustained a dialogue over several years. It’s not unusual for Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, to join Jews at a Seder table for a Passover meal, hosted by a conservative synagogue.
Sunday’s forum featured the voices of youth – beginning with a video of ten-year-olds of all backgrounds talking about the kind of world they want to see. Their comments were practical and insightful: treat other with respect; work out your differences; be prepared to compromise; stand up for someone who is being picked on – because it’s the right thing to do.
They were followed by three university students who recalled their memories of 2001, how it had impacted their lives, and their sense of responsibility for the future. “I want to do something to help change the world,” said one.
Imad Damaj, from the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, told how several years ago he had called Glenn Proctor, the news editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch to express his unhappiness at the way the newspaper was presenting the Muslim community. Proctor invited Imad to meet with him. Imad said, “I will come, but I am not coming alone," and took a representative team to the meeting. That honest conversation, said Imad, “marked a change in the relationship with the newspaper.”
Tom Silvestri, president and publisher of the Times-Dispatch underscored the power of hope and optimism, and encouraged everyone to get to know their neighbors. An interfaith panel of area clergy engaged in discussion with the audience. Rev. Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church sat between Rabbi Ben Romer of Congregation Or Ami and Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia. Said Somerville: “We’ve shared meals together. I bump into the Imam sometimes when I’m out jogging. I see Ben at the Jewish Community Center where I work out. It feels like a friendship is growing between us, and that’s remarkable for a Baptist minister.”
Sunday was a good day to be in Richmond and to feel the strength of this community.