One week after September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a lobby at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. My dad was undergoing what turned out to be successful liver cancer surgery, but the day was a long one. It began at 5 a.m., when my wife and I began the one-hour drive from our home to Rochester. The day ended 22 hours later, with me turning off the computer at my home office.
Sometime in the midst of those 22 hours, I received a message on my cell phone, telling me I needed to write a column — fast — for the October issue of RCM in reaction to the events of 9/11. The directive was a good one, but it came as a surprise, because the issue had gone to the printer the previous week.
I recall feeling quite overwhelmed by the message, because the uncertainty of my dad's medical fate was making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the pattern of the carpeting that I had been staring at. And, of course, the floor under all Americans still was shaking in the wake of the tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Looking back at what I wrote in that “emergency” column, I'm not sure where the words came from, or who wrote them when I returned from the hospital at midnight. Here is an excerpt:
“Perhaps the biggest change foris one that isn't so obvious right now. The biggest change is that religious meeting planners and religious leaders face larger, more urgent responsibilities today than they did prior to September 11.
“The responsibility is to provide conferences, events, and programs that will fill a desperate void felt by those without religious faith. … The responsibility is to provide opportunities for people to seek and find answers about their own longstanding faiths. These people are asking challenging questions that perhaps they've never confronted before, questions such as: Why did this happen? Where was God? Why did innocent people suffer and die?
“The responsibility is to bring together people of different religious traditions, so they can develop an understanding of their beliefs.
“Fortunately, almost all of the religious meeting planners I've met feel their work is a blessed calling. Now that calling includes new responsibilities: to heal wounds, to build understanding, and to help a world gripped by fear.”
In my daily life, I see evidence of faith all around me. For example, I was concerned that the congregation I attend would experience a dramatic drop in its offerings this year, because many people in our community are struggling in the wake of layoffs and work slowdowns. Incredibly, the giving to our church is nearly 5 percent ahead of budget so far this year. The faith-based college I attended just completed its most successful one-year fund-raising effort in the school's 128-year history. And finally, the annual RCMA survey, published in the June issue of RCM, showed that in 2001, RCMA members conducted a record number of meetings.
I'm also encouraged by what I see in the meeting industry marketplace. Convention centers, CVBs, hotels, cities, and even foreign countries are recognizing what many in RCMA always have known: Unlike the thousands of corporate meetings that have been canceled in the past year, religious meetings continue without interruption, offering attendees opportunities for fellowship, praise, and thanksgiving. Gathering together is at the core of faith. You know that, and you knew that. Well done.