Our church, Lakewood Baptist, hosted the memorial service for Edna Stephens who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked airplane slammed into the Pentagon. Eighteen years have passed, yet we remember it so well.
I remember well the words I used as I led Edna’s memorial service. I thought they were important then, and I believe they have value today. Lest we forget!
“The events of Sept. 11 have impacted all of us. No words are adequate to describe how criminal, treacherous, shameful and cowardly these unprovoked terrorist attacks were upon innocent victims such as Edna Stephens and the thousands of others who are enduring the loss of someone near, someone loved. Make no mistake about this: No loving, caring God would have ever directed the actions of Sept. 11. Those who perpetrated these cowardly, vicious actions were not soldiers or holy men. They were shameful, cowardly thugs that were operating on behalf of evil.”
Stephens, a budget analyst for the U.S. Army, was at work at her desk doing the Army’s work, the Defense Department’s work, America’s work. She was a career employee who moved to Washington, D.C., soon after graduating from E.E. Butler High in 1966. She, and many, perished that memorable day in Washington, New York City and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was her death which brought the impact of 9/11 to our own community.
Lakewood reached out to her son, Torrass, to offer our sanctuary and facilities for her memorial service, and he accepted our offer. The night before, we attended the wake at her home church, Antioch Baptist, hosted by the Rev. Rodney Lackey Sr., and met Edna’s family. They were all so kind, so humbled and so grateful.
All who died had hometowns somewhere, and we hope the other hometowns felt the impact as we did and reached out to other victims’ families as we did.
I was especially honored to meet Edna’s dad, the Rev. Eddie Stephens; my pastor’s heart hurt for this dad and pastor experiencing a difficult moment.
Our chapel is spacious and accommodating. The service was memorable as it attracted visitors, media and many friends from her hometown, Gainesville. The Rev. Lackey led a dignified, deserving service to her. Even after 18 years, we remember it well.
In 2012, we hosted David Beamer to keynote our annual patriotic celebration. David is the father of Todd Beamer who organized a team of brave passengers to attack the hijackers above the Pennsylvania farmland. Respectfully, David Beamer asked us to “be informed, aware and awake” as America still faces the “same enemy with new tactics and same objectives.”
Such memories — a victim and the father of a victim. The horrific images are still with us, as are the messages from the memorial and patriotic services.
We acknowledge that the fabric of America can get a bit tattered on its fringes. But the enduring strength and resolve of those red, white and blue threads are strong and bold to help us remember our past and prepare for our bright future.
I promised Edna’s family, “Lakewood would not forget.” We have not.
The Rev. Dr. Tom Smiley is senior pastor at Lakewood Baptist Church of Gainesville.