Interviewed July 25, 2002
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
John Lombard, minister of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, is being interviewed on the spiritual impact of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Al Filipov, who lost his life on Flight 11 when terrorists crashed the plane into the World Trade Center, was a deacon in the Trinitarian Congregational Church. A living memorial to Al is being organized through the church called the Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum. John Lombard also speaks about the spiritual outreach that people sought in an effort to respond to the enormity of the event and how the clergy played a role in that response.
The Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum idea developed when the diaconate, which is responsible for the spiritual life of our church, wanted to give a gift to the church in memory of Al. Nancy Haynes was on the subcommittee looking at options, and they did come up with a silver communion tray that is going to be given in the name of the diaconate to the church. But in my conversation with Nancy Haynes both of us had the same idea that we would love to have a living memorial to Al. She had raised this idea with Loretta Filipov as had I. And so at that point we got some energy and empowerment from our common thinking, and probably within two to three weeks, one time when I was visiting Loretta, on my way out I paused at the door and somehow we got talking about this idea of a living memorial. Loretta was very, very interested in this, and I thought if we were to do anything, this was the key element to have the interest and involvement of the family. So at that point we verbally made the commitment and then we just proceeded on my behalf to find some speakers and with Nancy setting up a committee to start working on it.
The goal of the forum is meant to be two-fold. One is to give voice to the values and principles and concerns that Al Filipov both as a person of faith, as a humanitarian were of concern to him throughout his lifetime. We wanted to give voice to those in an international context and in a way that lifts the issues of justice and peace. It basically challenges all of us in our world to keep this as part of our vision to work for. The other part of the goal was to try to empower common people to take on in their own way the cause of peace and justice, to find ways of working for it both domestically and internationally, not just by themselves but with other people and gaining strength in that. So the goal was two-fold, one is peace and justice in general and the values and virtues that go with that, and the other was personal empowerment to make a difference in the world.
We feel very, very fortunate with Paul Loeb coming to speak. He wrote the book, Soul of a Citizen, Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time. The title of the book just speaks so beautifully about what we want this forum to be about. He appears to us to be the ideal candidate. He has researched and written widely for 25 years. He's had an extensive touring series whereby he has spoken at a lot of colleges and he has written what is probably considered one of the foremost handbooks on social activism of our time, so we're very excited to have him come here.
We can look to the future with faith and hope. It is very easy in our world especially in light of such horrific events to immediately think of revenge and how to take our toll on those who have wronged us and hurt us. We in the faith community while on the one hand believing that justice always has to be rendered, probably have some different ways of looking at what justice means and how we make for a peace filled world. So our response tends to be one that offers hope and encouragement and inspiration and optimism as opposed to rooting ourselves in a kind of vengeful heart. Hatred breeds hatred and little is accomplished, at least that's what many of us believe in the community of faith. Certainly Al Filipov would be among the first to say, what good can we take out of such awful and hateful circumstances, and so that's our goal.
A living memorial is certainly a wonderful one. It's almost that the person's death has enabled something to happen. As awful as this event was and as tragic as the loss of life was for literally thousands of people, our hope is that many of those voices who commonly spoke in maybe very simple ways about peace and justice and hope and fairness, all the good values and virtues in life, that those voices are not silenced forever. But in fact, because of what they did we can empower other voices from what they started to speak these same values and virtues to a broken world. So we believe that we can get strength and power out of this. Obviously if we had our choice we would far more rather have Al present and with us and being able to do this himself in concert with his church, but we can't change history but we can change how we can respond in our way to what historical events dictate. We chose to continue to give voice not only to what Al articulated but to the faith behind that.
Our hope and dream is that this will be an ongoing forum. Obviously over a long run, it will require some substantial funding to make it in perpetuity, but we do hope that we will generate enough interest that we will be able to offer speakers hopefully on an annual basis which will continue to challenge and empower the community. These issues are current in any season in life and in any period of history. As much as I'd like to think we wouldn't need to do this, human nature being what it is, we are called forth indeed to do it, to offer a voice for peace and justice. So hopefully it will continue for many years to come.
People had a need to reach out and seek some meaning or response to the enormity of this event. People needed a place to go for safety and spirituality. There were some very intentional and planned ways in which we in the faith community sought to provide that venue. I think there were some that were simply unplanned. For example, we ourselves had a couple of services here specifically in response to the events of 9/11 that were heavily attended. Obviously it was speaking to the real need to vent their emotions to try to seek some sense of wholeness and understanding for what I'm sure were incomprehensible events especially in the life of this country and to be together in the community to find strength in one another. I think there were a lot of reasons why people came together for the services. The quieter, more informal ways were the fact that we had lots of people showing up at the church for no apparent reason. Some saying, were there any little projects they could do? We had the church doors open and we had lots of people coming in for quiet meditation, reflective time. But again there was no sort of programmed or intentional activity, it was just the need people felt that somehow to come to this place, that I'm sure represented a place of reflection, of sanctuary in the best sense of the word, security, safety, inspiration, quiet. I think the whole notion of could these people in a world where things seemed so out of control because of the horrendous nature of 9/11, were there ways they could contribute and help others no matter how modest the effort? So I think there were lots of reasons why the community of faith became a focus for people's interest and attention.
It was a big responsibility for the clergy to respond. I've said this more than once to numbers of people, there's nothing they really teach us in seminary about what to do in every circumstance in life, and this was such a circumstance. However, by virtue of the nature of the work we do which really means dealing with people individually and communally in many different seasons of life, there are certain basic resources that we think about or call upon. Certainly the collegial fashion in this church, our worship staff sat together and we needed to administer to each other's needs as well as start thinking about how we help our community of faith in the larger community. So it was kind of a corporate thinking and praying about what would be most helpful. I truly believe that at the end of the day those of us in the clergy especially if we had been doing this for a while, there's a certain intuition that we trusted, believing that if you can go deep enough inside yourself, then you will probably come close to what many others are feeling in the gathered community that comes to worship. If you can identify that and find ways to respond to that and offer it up publicly, then that goes a long way I believe in helping all of us to grieve if we need to grieve, to find meaning, to sort through problems and perplexities and at the end of the day as a community of faith to find hope. And that's what we sought to do.
In a sense 9/11 reaffirmed something very important in my own mind that despite the marginalization of clergy and indeed the communities of faith in time, the fact of life is when the chips are down and when difficulties descend, people really do turn to communities of faith and to the clergy in an effort to seek meaning. I really believe one of the major roles of religious leaders are to be meaning makers of society, to listen and think and talk and be with people, to understand their needs, their yearnings, their joys and sorrow and every day cares, and somehow give expression to what that means and where it needs to take us in the future, and 9/11 just affirmed this in my own mind. Even over time we have become marginalized, I do think there is a vital importance and vital presence in the life of any community even though those resources may be drawn upon more in times of trial and distress than necessarily when life is good.
Interestingly, immediately following 9/11 I had three funerals, the last which was Al Filipov and in many respects each of those three funerals had a larger dimension to them. It couldn't help but. Certainly in the case of Al Filipov, it was probably one of the largest funerals we ever had in this church; we had overflow capacity and piped in service. But I have to believe that virtually everyone was there because they knew Al, but different people would know him on different levels, some less than others. But I do think in addition to honoring Al and grieving his loss and celebrating his life and supporting his family, that the whole community of gathered people at that point in addition to that and maybe transcending it in some ways, they were struggling with what was 9/11 all about and how were we as individuals and as a nation going to respond because obviously a response would be forthcoming whatever that was. I don't think anyone necessarily knew at the time what all that would be. And so particularly with meeting with the Filipov family and talking about Al and preparing for that service, we felt there was an extra responsibility we had to use that service not simply to remember Al, which was our reason for being there, but even more to speak certain messages to the larger community that people of faith perhaps needed to be challenged by.
I know Loretta Filipov and I, as well as the family, were very concerned that the nation as a whole because of the enormity of this attack on the United States would react in a kind of knee-jerk reaction. We sort of need to seek vengeance on these people whoever they were and wherever they came from. While not denying the fact that justice always needs to be rendered, we really felt that we needed to be very careful and cautious as to how we respond and that we were going to be motivated hopefully by some higher principles, so that once again hatred would not feed hatred. The responsibility of that service was magnified by virtue of the circumstances that called it for.
I think it was hard for people to sort out all those feelings of being stunned, anxious, grieving, bewildered, and to separate them out and put them all back together and reintegrate them in their lives so that once again life would have meaning. I think the fact that this attack took place on the shores of the United States really pierced people's sense of invincibility. I really believe that the whole country maybe for one of the first times in their lives at least in more recent generations felt vulnerable. That sometimes is difficult for us to admit. We like to be strong, we like to be invincible, we like to have life organized together and things not disrupting that, and we're not quick to admit weakness or imperfection or vulnerability. I think it struck to the core of that and is very human. But we don't experience it well. In other places in the world, terrorism and attacks are sometimes a daily way of life. That's very unfortunate and we need to work hard and pray hard to better the world in that respect. But the fact that it came to our doorstep, we suddenly realize that none of us are exempt from having our lives terribly disrupted and changed forever. It was very disconcerting for people. That's why I think we had this mixture of all kinds of feelings of anger, hostility, bewilderment, confusion, anxiousness, and that's why the faith communities had a particular role in trying to offer at least some initial solace as well as helping us channel our energies toward constructive ways of dealing with a response.
As we come to the anniversary of 9/11, we are going to have a week of activity called the Week of Remembrance where there will be individual and informal opportunities to be together to have conversation, to simply come to our sanctuary to reflect. We are going to have three specific events which we think will help shape and define the week. The first is on September 8 after our morning worship service we will dedicate a granite bench on our church property near our fountain and that will be dedicated in the memory of Al Filipov. In a sense that will begin our week of remembrance about 9/11. Midweek on Wednesday, September 11 the actual anniversary date of the event of 9/11, we're going to have a service here at 7:30 in the evening and that service we're entitling an Evening of Remembrance, Healing and Hope. We've invited the Tim Janis ensemble to be the focus of that evening. Tim Janis is an up and coming musician. He basically composes new age classical music, the type of music which transcends all interests, all variations of music and ages and generations so it appeals to a very broad spectrum of people. He has appeared in our church on two other occasions. People have responded wonderfully to him. So we are going to have him and just before he performs we'll have a few words of greeting, probably a scripture reading and a prayer, have his music and at the end of his performance, close with some concluding words and a benediction. My belief is we want to provide ways to speak to many people in all sorts of different places and ways, and I feel that music is one of the best ways of doing this. So we're going to allow his sort of quiet and meditative music to help take people to where they need to go in terms of remembering the events of a year ago and at the same time, hopefully providing one more opportunity for people to be healed increasingly as we move away from 9/11 and to be encouraged for the future. So we're looking forward to the evening, and afterward there will be a reception where people can meet Tim and have time to be together and talk.
On the morning of September 11 particularly because we lost one of our own church members at the time of the airline crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, we will be ringing our church bells here at the church at 8:45 in the morning which was the time when the first plane, Flight 11 hit the Trade Center. We will ring our church bells 11 times in honor and memory of all the victims, the thousands of victims who were killed as a result of those horrendous events. And we're going to invite other religious communities here in Concord and Carlisle to join us either by ringing their church bells or being together in silence and prayer. We believe fully that all the faith communities will probably be doing some things on this occasion, and we're hoping this one activity we could all be together on.