Every year on Sept. 11, the world is plagued with thoughts of the tragic events from that date in 2001. Since the events of 9/11, numerous steps have been taken in national security, but America as a whole was severely affected by the incidents of the day.
Ceremonies, museums and social media posts have all been employed to help people remember 9/11, but Athens chooses to remember in a different way. Every year United Campus Ministry at Ohio University sponsors the Interfaith Peace Walk: an event to bring together every religion and every person to remember 9/11.
The ninth Interfaith Peace Walk is cosponsored by numerous OU and Athens area groups, but the event always begins at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
Rev. Deborah Woolsey, the rector of the church, believes the Interfaith Peace Walk is a great way to bring the area together to remember as a unit.
“As I looked at my social media all day long, everyone is saying ‘don’t forget,’ but that’s kind of a negative way of saying it,” Woolsey said. “Often what they’re saying is ‘don’t forget the suffering.’ And I don’t want to negate the suffering, but also it makes me reflect on what I was thinking about that day and before it happened, and really remembering how the world changed. So for me, I knew at that moment the world was going to change. So it isn’t for me so much about “not forgetting,” but it’s about how are we going to move forward?”
Following the events of 9/11, all of the pastors, priests and ministers in Athens were called in to help deal with the emotions and feelings going through the area. The feeling of togetherness and the need to do something lingered for a while, so they all decided to plan something more formal to not just remember the event, but to help people move forward.
Woolsey expressed the idea that, because the events were carried out by such an extremist religious terrorist, that harm was felt deeply through all religious bodies. Religion is about peace, so it was especially distressing due to being carried out by a religious extremist, Woolsey said. To further prove their peace and unity initiative, the walk is a way to have a strong presence in the Athens area.
The walk succeeds in this, with over 50 people attending this year, including OU students and Athens residents. Debra Spangler, a member of the Athens Justice Choir, has been an Athens resident for 11 years, has attended the walk for four years and has sung with her choir in the walk for two years.
“I think it’s really hard to make any sense of the actual event, and to me the way to counter that feeling of confusion and desperation and all of those really horrible feelings is to come together with people who care about it and are willing to hold space for all of those feelings that come up,” Spangler said.
Spangler also believes events like this are important because they actually mean something more than just a simple post online.
“I love that it’s interfaith, that feels really important to me,” Spangler said. “And I think it’s important to be visible in that support, especially in these days, and to not just be on Facebook and giving lip service to something. I think it’s important to actually be in person with it.”
The participants in the walk travel the same route every year. Starting at the Episcopal church, they travel through College Green, past First United Methodist Church, Athens First Presbyterian Church, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Hillel at OU, St. Paul's Catholic Church, Christ Lutheran Church, Christ the King University Parish and culminating at the Islamic Center with a candlelight vigil. The walk is a part of OU’s Better Together campaign, which is a long effort to get college students from different faith backgrounds to engage in service projects and social justice together to make OU and Athens a better place.
Sarah Daniels, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders, has been interning with United Campus Ministry for two years and believes the walk is really special.
“It’s really moving, it’s more than just a walk: it means something,” Daniels said. “It’s a good way to remember such an important event that happened that shaped a lot of people’s lives.”
More than anything, Woolsey always feels immense joy when people come and not only support the walk, but form connections and remember this important day in history.
“It always brings me joy, and it is an eternal sign of hope,” Woolsey said. “I believe in the innate goodness of every person, so when I see people come, no matter how many there are, I definitely feel that, and it can rekindle me when I’m feeling down or discouraged.”