Law enforcement agencies, secular and faith-based relief groups, and media are known to instantly pivot and mobilize when tragedy strikes.
And while those responses are usually the most visible, there are others who refocus and retool their efforts to comfort thousands during difficult times: the editors and writers of daily and seasonal devotions.
A decision to re-write a 2001 Advent series to reflect the events and emotions of 9-11 inspired what would become d365.org, a year-round ministry of Passport Inc. and now co-sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Episcopal Church.
Aimed at youth and young adults, the ecumenical effort offers daily devotionals and themed series during Lent, Advent and the beginning of the school year. Its team of writers reaches more than 2 million visitors through its web site and apps for Android and iOS.
The advantage of a web-based devotional series is that its publication plans can be rapidly altered or scrapped to reflect events impacting the national and global mood, said Passport president and founder David Burroughs.
It first happened in October 2001.
Someone observed during a meeting that the scheduled Advent devotionals had been written six months earlier. They were outdated given the terror attacks the month before.
“Peace and joy and hope had to take on a different context as soon as the towers fell,” Burroughs said. The idea was floated to rewrite the series.
“We were like, let’s do it.”
Similar action was taken after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in 14 nations. The following d365.org Lenten series, titled “Journey to the Cross,” was dedicated to the event and its victims.
“The whole thing was water-based,” Burroughs said. “It was about the destructive power of water and the restorative power of water as a way to reflect on this global event.”
The Sandy Hook school massacre inspired another rewrite, he said. But they passed on other events.
“You have to be careful with that. You can’t respond to everything.”
But d365.org is, as always, responding to the Christian calendar and the lectionary. Currently, followers are progressing through “Journey to the Cross,” the Lenten devotional series.
In 2017, the Lenten series had more than 51,000 users, including 32,590 new users, according to information provided by Burroughs.
This year so far, about 34,000 visitors have accessed the Lenten devotionals, including close to 18,000 new users. Users visit the site from 106 nations.
Much of the feedback is positive, Burroughs said.
“Mostly it’s, ‘My family does this around the breakfast table every morning,’” he said.
But d365.org users aren’t the only ones transformed by its devotions. Burroughs and other writers say they’re changed as well.
Writers are assigned a week prior to the one for which they are responsible. Each day includes a centering thought, a devotional of 150 words or less and a message sending readers into their days.
“It has been an act of worship for me,” said Susan Sytsma Bratt, associate pastor at Northridge Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
Sytsma Bratt said she prays and lights a candle before each writing session, which includes delving into the assigned scripture and her observations from daily life.
She said she approaches the assignments much like she does sermon writing.
“I’m looking for a bridge to someone’s daily life that will bring them back to scripture,” she said.