Church member Keather Snyder was near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She has shared her powerful story a few times with our congregation, most recently last year for one of our Facebook devotionals.
This past week, she shared with us her special interest in one of the stained-glass windows in our Sanctuary, depicting Jesus and the children. At the bottom is the name Alice Elizabeth Woodbery, a former church member memorialized by the window. What has often caught Keather’s attention is the date of her birth inscribed in the lower left corner:
Sept. 11, 1921
Keather asked us about the story behind Ms. Woodbery, who today would have been one hundred years old, on the twentieth anniversary of the tragic event that changed the world.
The information we discovered in response to Keather’s inquiry was simply remarkable.
LET THE CHILDREN COME TO ME
Staffer Lynn Osborne researched the history of the Woodbery family. She discovered that D. Hoyt Woodbery was a significant leader in our church, serving on a committee in 1942 to raise $19,000 to pay off the debt on the old Wesley Building. He and his wife had three daughters, the oldest of which was Alice Elizabeth Woodbery. She was a Plant High School student who succumbed to a strep infection. There is no history of trauma or other cause listed on her death certificate.
She died in 1938, at the age of 16.
The Woodbery’s not only gifted the window to honor the memory of their child; it was used to remind the church of the story of Jesus, who gathers all of us children, in times of grief and loss. Little could the Woodbery’s have known that the very date of their daughter’s birthday would, a century later, represent another significant occasion for profound grief for our nation. Yet that same image, of a Jesus who embraces us with encouraging arms, gives us the same hope as it did for our spiritual ancestors long ago.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
Lynn did some additional digging and found other significant parallels:
“Unrelated to Alice, there were two earlier entries in the history book that caught my eye. “Hyde Park Church, like every other, has had years of prosperity and of depression. In 1905 the pastor reported that the attendance was poor. Many members had not returned from summer vacation because of the prevalence of yellow fever in the state.” In the next paragraph, “An interesting note in the old records is that in 1908 there was a movement to sell 14 feet off the south side of the church lot. The question actually came to a vote and was narrowly defeated. Upon those 14 feet, part of our John Wesley Building now stands, a monument to the vision of the negative vote.”
Lynn concludes: “And in 2021, our Ministry Leadership Council will begin new discernment about whether we should hold onto property or sell. I think the writer of Ecclesiastes had it right, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
A PRAYER FOR 9/11
Mark Twain famously said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” On this day of remembrance, we acknowledge the presence of a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12) whose example summons our courage, faithfulness, and perseverance. They endured hardship, grief, and even widespread disease. By God’s grace, we can, too.
I invite you to join me in prayer:
Holy and Eternal God, we pause to remember the events of a day that will forever be etched in our collective memory. We give thanks for those who heroically risked their lives to care for others. We grieve with families burdened with an enduring sense of loss. We pray for our own collective spirit, that the impulse for revenge might be transformed into a pursuit of justice and a capacity for forgiveness. We pray for a love that will overcome prejudice based on nationality, ethnicity, and religion. Ultimately, we pray for peace, in our hearts, in our communities, and throughout the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.
Grace and peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist