'A Cry In Our Hearts'
The Impact of 9/11 on the Church in New York City
September 9, 2011
by Joy Allmond
Jeremy Del Rio never made it into work on Sept. 11, 2011.
The next day he knew where he needed to be: at Ground Zero, joining his dad, Richard—the first clergyman at the scene—who was ministering to those amid the rubble.
Jeremy grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where His parents started Abounding Grace Ministries as a street evangelism ministry in 1982. Given this background, it seemed natural for the elder Del Rio to run toward the falling buildings on 9/11
Though he worked as a corporate lawyer in midtown Manhattan, Jeremy was involved in his dad’s ministry as a volunteer youth pastor. The Del Rios and two other pastors tried to enter each checkpoint at Ground Zero but were turned away about a dozen times.
Finally, a National Guardsman told them clergies were needed at Ground Zero, but he couldn’t allow them access without the governor’s authorization.
Through a series of events, access was granted, and thus began what became known as the Ground Zero Clergy Task Force. One of the main objectives of this task force was to mobilize evangelical Christians to be a part of the city’s healing.
Jeremy never returned to work as a lawyer. He continued to work alongside his father and another pastor on the task force.
Specifically, his role was liaison with Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Prayer Center, coordinating crisis counseling and post-traumatic ministry initiatives. Through his involvement, God showed him some things that needed to be done within the church as well as outside.
Work to Do
“I believe evangelicals had been, prior to 9/11, so disconnected from each other,” explained Jeremy. “Many were independent churches or so denominational that they’d be on the same block with six churches and not even know who the pastors were.”
God also exposed to Jeremy a collective discomfort with outsiders.
“It was really striking how many evangelicals in New York didn’t know what to do with the wave of Muslim immigration that preceded and followed 9/11,” he remembered. “Many God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching Christians were just consumed with fear toward our neighbors and didn’t know how to treat them, didn’t know what to say, and clearly hadn’t processed what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Building ‘Relational Equity’
For Jeremy, one of the biggest lessons learned from 9/11 is that we all need to be ready to minister since there is no way to anticipate when the next crisis will happen—be it individual or collective.
“Being ready means, in part, having the relational equity to be trusted in a crisis,” Jeremy said. “You don’t have relational equity apart from real relationships. And that takes time and it requires intentional action.”
In general, he has witnessed more intentionality in the years since 9/11. But he cautions that the more removed we get from 9/11 the easier it is to get caught up in busy schedules that prevents intentional relational investment.
“Nurturing relationships is one of the hardest things I think we’re called to do, but it’s also what moves mountains,” Jeremy said. “And it’s critically important if we’re serious about advancing the Kingdom on earth.”
‘A Cry In Our Hearts’
Ten years after the 9/11 tragedy, Jeremy says New Yorkers are still very spiritually sensitive—and hungry for authenticity.
“They’re not necessarily looking in traditional churches for answers. So, part of the challenge for believers is meeting people on their terms.”
His father echoes those sentiments.
While relationships remain, and the infrastructure to respond to another catastrophe is somewhat in place, the demands of ministry have caused many to return to pre-9/11 mode,” Richard explained.
“Many of us have reverted back to focusing all our time and energy on our own fields, meeting the demands and responsibilities of ‘our’ ministries. But there is one thing we can’t get away from, and that is the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 1:7” ‘That they may be one even as we are one.’”
Both father and son have a renewed passion that they hope will be contagious: to become the answer to this prayer of Jesus, to be one with God and His people, even 10 years after the crisis that shook the country.
“There is a cry in our hearts for the Lord to move in our churches and communities,” Richard said. “Not only in Manhattan’s Lower East Side but across our city and nation.”