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DC pastors carry heavy load


Spiritual fallout from the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon is landing on the shoulders of local pastors in the nation's capital.

More people are going to church than before. And many are more scared than they've ever been. As testing for anthrax continues in Florida, many in the DC area believe they live in a "prime target" area for future attacks. On Tuesday, hazardous materials crews closed three metro train stations when an unruly passenger sprayed what was found to be cleaning solution near other metro riders.

Are local clergy ready to handle the current anxiety -- or even the impact of this area being hit by another terrorist attack?

Shirley Norman, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster response facilitator, is working with local clergy and officials to form an inter-religious recovery task force.

Norman said they're working with an emphasis on pastoral care for the clergy and officials since DC could be hit again.

"The President and Congress are here, all these major officials -- could this type of thing happen again?" said Norman. "This is a big concern and folks want to be prepared and want some good training."

Norman said their task force has had several meetings to develop a mission and goals. She said they have many well-trained people in the group, including the chaplain from the Pentagon, the head chaplain from the U.S. Coast Guard, local professors, and many local clergy.

In DC, as in New York City, faith leaders will help those that don't know about the help they can receive and those that might be afraid to ask for help. "There are a lot of fringe people to deal with. These folks need to know that help is out there," said Norman.

Adwoa Beidleman-Aggrey, a CWS disaster resource consultant for the region, says an additional goal of the inter-religious group is countering any racism towards people of Middle-Eastern descent. She said part of the training that they're doing with the local clergy involves a focus on anti-racism.

The terrorist attack has not been DC's only disaster this year. In August, torrential downpours caused extensive flooding in several of the District's neighborhoods.

Beidleman-Aggrey said these past two disasters have changed how people viewed their own roles in recovery. "When you live in this area, you have FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency around and the (American) Red Cross and more, so people didn't think about the response they could have collectively," said Beidleman-Aggrey. "Now that both these disasters have happened, they know that they can contribute as a group and individually. And they have."

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