Prayer vigils, services of remembrance planned as churches mark 20 years since 9/11

By David Paulsen
Posted Sep 10, 2021
Tribute in Light 2020

From Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, people look at the Tribute in Light installation marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2020. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians were among the large crowd of people who turned out Sept. 9 for an interfaith peace walk in New York’s Midtown Manhattan to commemorate 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as dioceses and congregations across The Episcopal Church prepare for local events this weekend marking the anniversary.

The evening peace walk featured stops at Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh places of worship, a show of interfaith solidarity in the fight against ethnic and religious prejudice related to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The 19 attackers, affiliated with the terrorist group Al Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Virginia, and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people and injuring thousands more.

“As followers of Jesus, and with our siblings in other faith traditions, we place great value on the act of remembrance,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a pastoral message released earlier this week. “As we reflect on the solemn anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we remember many loved ones lost and first responders who put their lives at risk, modeling the sacrificial love of Jesus, who said: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York will hold its annual ceremony to read the names of the victims, starting at 8:30 a.m. It is expected to finish at 1 p.m., and the “Tribute in Light” will begin at sundown.

Curry is scheduled to preach at the 11:15 a.m. service Sept. 12 at Trinity Church Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, near the World Trade Center site. The church’s St. Paul’s Chapel became a focal point for pastoral outreach to Ground Zero after the attacks, with hundreds of volunteers ministering to first responders and workers who were tasked with sifting through the ruins of the towers.

For the 20-year commemorations, Trinity Church is inviting the public to “A Time and Space for Remembrance and Healing,” which will span the weekend, starting with a service at 8 p.m. Sept. 10. After the service, St. Paul’s Chapel will remain open to all who “are seeking a place to pray, reflect, mourn, or simply sit with their memories,” according to the church.

At St. Paul’s, clergy from the Diocese of New York will be present to offer prayers, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 11, brief musical interludes and readings will be offered each hour on the hour. The chapel also will host an exhibit of 9/11 artifacts and other displays.

The diocese also developed liturgical propers that congregations can follow on Sept. 11, along with other resources available online.

In the nation’s capital, Washington National Cathedral offered a Morning Prayer service on Sept. 10 from its War Memorial Chapel, led by the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, bishop for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries. The cathedral will hold a memorial service at 11 a.m. Sept. 12, including the tolling of the cathedral’s funeral bell. The images of the 343 New York firefighters who died in the attacks will be displayed on the cathedral’s West Lawn.

“In the two decades since, we’ve learned many lessons — about hope, perseverance, healing and loss — but none so profound and searing as the courage and heroism of those first responders who rushed to aid in the aftermath of the attacks,” said the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the cathedral. “Today, we mourn them, grieve their loss, and reflect on their sacrifice, even as we give thanks for the countless lives they saved.”

In addition to being open to the public, the service will be livestreamed on the cathedral’s YouTube channel.

The 2001 terrorist attack remains the deadliest in history, and the catastrophe has had an indelible influence on two decades of American foreign policy and domestic politics. The United States and a coalition of allies responded a month after the attack by invading Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based, and toppling the ruling Taliban. That 20-year war ended just last month with the Taliban returning to power as the U.S. military expedited its withdrawal from the country.

The following are some of the other 9/11 commemorations scheduled for this weekend involving Episcopal dioceses and congregations.

  • Boston, Massachusetts: The Cathedral Church of St. Paul has scheduled a compline service at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 to mark the 9/11 anniversary. The Rev. Stephen Harding, who served as a chaplain at Ground Zero, will preach. The service can be viewed on Zoom with registration in advance.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Diocese of Milwaukee invites volunteers to a neighborhood clean-up event as part of the National Day of Service that coincides with the 9/11 anniversary.
  • Trenton, New Jersey: The Diocese of New Jersey will livestream a prayer vigil with Bishop Chip Stokes from the 9/11 Memorial at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral starting at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11.
  • Chestertown, Maryland: Emmanuel Episcopal Church will offer a Prayer Service of Remembrance starting at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 11. The church bell will ring 30 times, in memory of the nearly 3,000 who died in the attacks 20 years ago.
  • Newark, New Jersey: Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral will open from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 11 for those seeking a quiet place to pray. The diocese will post a prerecorded Service of Prayer & Music, with a message from Bishop Carlye Hughes, on its YouTube channel at 10 a.m.
  • Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Washington Memorial Chapel will hold a Morning Prayer service at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 11. The chapel’s bells will toll throughout the morning, marking the times of the plane crashes 20 years ago. After the service, those gathered will process to the churchyard and the gravesite of Louis Nacke II, one of the Flight 93 passengers who died in the attacks.
  • Jacksonville Beach, Florida: St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church will host a community prayer service commemorating 20 years since 9/11. The interfaith service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 11.
  • Memphis, Tennessee: West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf will preach at a Service of Healing and Remembrance at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The service will honor local first responders and is part of the cathedral’s Martyrs’ Weekend, an annual event that recognizes the nuns and priests who ministered to the sick during the deadly 1878 yellow fever epidemic. Sept. 9 is the feast day of the Martyrs of Memphis.
  • Oakdale, New York: St. John’s Episcopal Church on Long Island will host a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil on Sept. 11 “in remembrance of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at