MICHEL MARTIN, host: The September 11 attacks fundamentally changed the way many people view their work, as well as their lives. That's true for the Reverend Robert Way. Known as Pastor Bob, he was little more than a month into his first pastoral assignment in a parish in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when United Flight 93 went down.
He's the latest voice in our series, Where Were You, where our colleagues and listeners have shared their recollections of September 11, 2001. Here's Reverend Robert Way.
The Reverend ROBERT WAY: Until mid-August of this year, I had been the Lutheran pastor serving two congregations in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I began serving these two congregations, St. Paul's and St. Mark, on the first of August, 2001, merely 41 days before the date that now marks history for our fair land.
Little did I know what different form ministry would take as I headed into the office on September the 11th. After the morning ritual of checking phone messages and mail (technical difficulties) into Somerset for a meeting with other local clergy. Upon entering the meeting, I was informed of the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Within minutes, the secretary of the church came in to inform us of the second plane and I knew then that this was not an accident.
Our meeting, which includes prayers and holy communion, began early as we felt a need to enter into prayer for whatever was taking place. We began that worship service and, once again, the church secretary appeared at the door and, without interrupting, we knew that more distressing news was waiting.
It was about the flight crashing into the Pentagon. We received that news immediately upon ending the service at approximately 9:55. After some brief conjecture with the other ministers about what could possibly be taking place, I received a cell phone call from one of my parish members, Lacey, a young woman just out of her teens. With a broken voice, both marked by shock and fear, she said, Pastor Bob, a plane just crashed in our backyard. My automatic response was, I'll be right there.
Again, I had no concept of what direction the day was going to take, but ministry is most often trust in God to guide your path. I headed toward Lacey's home after stopping to check on Evelyn Gibson, an 84-year-old widow, legally blind, who also lived on the parcel of land where Flight 93 ended.
But as I attempted to drive up Skyline Drive, unaware that the crash occurred within sight of the road, I was stopped by a fire policeman and asked to go down to the site to give last rites to those who died or were dying. He had obviously not been to the site, because the destruction of the bodies of the heroes of the flight was beyond that possibility.
I returned to my office briefly to call and check on more folks, but phone service was interrupted, so I went to speak with a group of teenagers gathered on the main corner in town. I asked how they were doing and one asked whether this was World War III. And another asked if it was the end of the world. I answered them that, indeed, I didn't know what happened. I did impress upon them, however, that the crash that occurred here was unintended. A third youth prophetically exclaimed, well, life sure won't be the same any more.
Up to that point, I still had not called to let my wife Pam and son Josh know that I was well. That evening, I was among local clergy who gathered for an evening prayer service. Nearly half the residents in Shanksville attended that service, which centered on prayers for peace and comfort in the midst of uncertainty and fear.
I talked with a few folks after the service and then headed home, where I talked only briefly with my family. As the events of the day began to take a toll and I was shutting down, my introversion was showing.
Since the tragic end of Flight 93, I have served on the task force to plan and develop the national memorial along with my wife. I serve as an ambassador at the site, to help inform people about the events of that day there at the site.
MARTIN: That was Reverend Robert Way, who was a new pastor in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. Today, he's pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.