KEARNEY — Coming to Nebraska was a “God moment” for Diane Brevary of Richmond, Va., who served as the interim executive presbyter for the Central Nebraska Presbytery from July 2000 to December 2001.
Especially on Sept. 11, 2001.
Working at First Presbyterian Church, she had administrative responsibilities over 40 churches and 20 clergy in Nebraska, including some smaller churches without a pastor. “I was like a circuit rider, visiting churches every Sunday,” she said.
Every morning, she watched NBC’s “Today Show.” On Sept. 11, as she left home for a meeting at the church, she caught a glimpse of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. When she got to the office, she asked a coworker to find a TV.
“As the morning evolved, the horror of it was revealed,” she said. Many people arriving for the meeting had driven long distances from places like Valentine and were learning about the attacks for the first time.
“As we gathered, we debated about whether to have the meeting. Then we heard about the plane hitting the Pentagon,” she said. At that moment, Brevary’s anxiety exploded.
“I had served three churches in the D.C. area, and I knew people there. Jim, my-soon-to-be-husband, had a daughter working in that area. I wasn’t sure if she was in the Pentagon or another facility. I didn’t know if there might be another incident. I was in shock. I could hardly think,” she said.
She quickly called Jim, a retired 30-year U.S. Army veteran. “He discovered the jet made a direct hit where his former office had been,” Brevary said. He’d retired 10 years earlier but still had friends at the Pentagon.
“He checked with a woman who had been his secretary at the Pentagon. She escaped harm because she’d just stepped into the courtyard to have a smoke,” Brevary said. But he also lost several friends.
“A friend in Virginia had been caught in airport in Cincinnati on her way to a business event. Planes were grounded so she rented a car,” she said. She also learned that President George Bush was being flown to an air force base in Omaha.
The presbytery meeting was canceled, “but nobody wanted to leave. They just stayed in front of the TV,” she said. Many of those present knew her husband.
“For me, 9/11 was a very personal experience, but people here in Nebraska who had no connection to Washington or New York City were very kind. They were horrified, but in a different way. I felt like I had family around me,” she said.
That was a Tuesday. The following Sunday, she was scheduled to preach.
Now, 20 years later, she doesn’t quite remember what she said, “but I said it was time to affirm the fact that while horrible things happen, in a community of faith we stand together and help each other through, and we believe God is with us. He did not make the horrible happen, but he was with us during it.”
Brevary left central Nebraska that December, served several areas in Kansas and since 2013 has been “delightfully retired.” Now living near Richmond, Va., she looks back fondly at her time on the Great Plains.
“When they advertised the position in Nebraska, the ad was simple and beautiful, with a sheaf of wheat. Nebraska was a place I knew nothing about, but something struck me about it, so I applied,” she said.
“The ethos of the true Midwest is different from the one in the East. Traditions are shorter lived. There’s a strong sense of loyalty to family and neighbors, a can-do spirit,” she said.
That spirit comforted her on 9/11.