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Keeping Faith, One Year Later

Local religious leaders speak out about God and Sept. 11.

<i>In the minutes, hours and days immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, many Americans turned to religion and faith as a way to understand or come to grips with the horror in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Locally, many churches are opening their doors, again, in anticipation of the one year anniversary of 9/11. What are they saying now?</i>

<b>Congregation Beth Emeth, Herndon

Rabbi Steven Grazer</b>

"No doubt about it, there has been a general increase in activity in virtually all areas," said Rabbi Steven Grazer. "I think it is only natural that when we see a crisis of faith, we turn to religion." Congregation Beth Emeth did not lose any members in the attacks at the Pentagon, Grazer, in his seventh year, said. "We were very fortunate. In fact, I think I have seen an added number of worshippers on Friday and Saturday."

The rabbi of the conservative Lawyers Road synagogue said that Sept. 11, and all its many repercussions, has strengthened their 475-family congregation. Grazer is proud that, unlike many churches in the area, Beth Emeth had a special service on the night of Sept. 11, 2001. "It was my strong sense that we needed to come together as a community," he said. "It was packed with Jews and non-Jews, alike. It was a great opportunity to come together, regardless of faith, and to respond to those terrible events."

Grazer said his congregation, in response to increased security at synagogues around the country, brought in an "increased security presence." Grazer doesn't think any of the threats have scared any one away "It's more of a comfort knowing they are there," he said.

<b>Church of Jesus Chris of Latter Day Saints, Reston Ward

Bishop Stephen Whitt</b>

"I think, in general, most people have generally moved on with their lives," said Stephen Whitt, the Bishop the Reston Ward of the Mormon Church. Whitt, who presides over the 400-member ward, says his congregation clearly became closer as a result of the attacks.

Last September, the bishop made sure that everyone would be contacted to find out if everyone was accounted for and to see if anyone had lost close friends or family in the attacks. "I think that put a lot of people at ease," he said. "They realized they weren't alone. Religion is the most obvious antidote in times of crisis," he said. "Life is more than just the here and now."

Some of those worshippers who came "back to the flock" have stayed, Whitt said. "Some of our more, shall we say, casual members have become much more active as a result of Sept. 11."

<b>Mount Pleasant, Herndon

Pastor James L. Graham, Jr.</b>

"We are praying more fervently and praying more often," Graham said, of the changes to his congregation since Sept. 11. He went on to say that a new focus on group prayer would be singling out our national government and political leaders and public safety officers. "We've resolved to pray more soon after the events of that morning," Graham said. "There was just a sense that something needed to be done."

Graham said he was proud of the growth he has seen in his flock. "People seek out God in difficult times."

In an attempt to explain the Islamic faith, Graham did some teaching on the religion. He also wanted to make sure people, non-Muslims, understood that the suicide-pilots were not practicing a traditional Islam philosophy. "At Mount Pleasant," the pastor said, "we try to keep a community of unity."

<b>Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Reston

Rev. Anthony "Tony" Santori</b>

One year after Sept. 11, he still can't help but bring it up. It, of course, are the events and aftershocks of that day. "It comes up many, many times in my sermons," Santori said. "Really, how could it not?" The bonds created out of shared grief have brought his community of worship closer together, Santori said, of his 80-family congregation, many of which are made up of defense workers who were at the Pentagon that Tuesday in September.

"If anything, we have learned not to take the family for granted," he said. "After 9/11, people here have realized the value of the family." Like many other church leaders around the country, Santori chose to have members of a local Islamic church come and explain their religion and dispute the fallacies surrounding it. Based on his experiences last September, Santori has become a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue chaplain. "I can't wait," he said. "I am really looking forward to helping out in any way I can."

<b>St. John Neumann Catholic Community, Reston</b>

Tom Flynn, member of social action committee in the Neumann parish and the church's Interfaith liaison.

"St. John's is a pretty active community and was before 9/11," Flynn said. He said he was not aware of any significant jump in attendance as a result of Sept. 11. "Religion has always played an important role at times of crisis," he said. "That day changed our lifestyle and it brought home something that deep down we always knew existed — the importance of God," he said. Flynn said it is just as important on Sept. 11, 2002 as it was on Sept. 11, 2001 to be supportive of the community. "I do think there is a deepening of the awareness of the fragility of life," he said. "We cannot forget that."