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CANTON — Local clergy and town officials spoke words of praise and gratitude for first responders and other emergency service personnel, law enforcement officers and firefighters at an event in their honor at the Canton Armory Sept. 11.

This was the first time this event took place in a central location, said Pastor Paul Brown of Central United Methodist Church in Canton.

“On this day we remember all the brave first responders,” Brown said to those gathered.

Canton Mayor Pro Tem Gail Mull observed that 18 years ago on the morning of Sept. 11 more than 2,900 people, including first responders, lost their lives in the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York and Washington.

The firefighters and law enforcement officers who died in this tragedy are heroes who made a great sacrifice, Mull said.

Court Greene, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Canton, thanked the men and women in Haywood County who place their lives on the line for citizens they serve.

“There is no routine day when it comes to the performance of their duty,” said the Rev. Gordon Pike of First United Methodist Church in Canton. “Help us not take them for granted,” he said while offering a prayer for those who serve the community in times of crisis.

Delivering a blessing and prayer for emergency personnel, the Rev. Esta Jarrett of Canton Presbyterian Church said, “We do give thanks for their bravery and skill … for brave souls who rushed to the scene of disaster and paid for their selflessness with their health and their lives.”

“We ask that they will be safe and healthy, and will receive just compensation for their work,” Jarrett said of those who continuing serving.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown read a proclamation commemorating Sept. 11 as a national day of service and remembrance of the loss of lives in the tragedy.

In the aftermath, the spirit of the nation has been revitalized, he said.

“Our nation has found unity and strength,” Brown said.

Event organizer Nate Washington, a member of Central United Methodist Church, said several years ago he decided to find a way of honoring first responders after a bishop suggested the idea at an annual conference he attended.

“First responders deserve our thanks for their tremendous dedication to our well-being. When trouble comes, (dialing) 911 gives us access to these departments and they respond rapidly when called upon,” said Washington.

“They don’t do it for a pat on the back,” he added. “It’s a calling, and the community is a lot stronger when we get behind these people and give them our support.”

“I know what it means to run toward the hazard,” said Washington who suffered a serious injury in Vietnam while serving his country as a member of the U. S. Air Force.

With help from Pastor Brown and the Canton Missional Network, a coalition of area churches that assists needy persons, this year Washington reached out to area churches in an effort to hold the annual commemoration in a central location on Sept. 11. In previous years, individual churches have honored first responders at Sunday services.

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said he was happy that his town can hold such an event at one of its facilities.

“We’re absolutely honored to host that,” Smathers said. “We have an ongoing tradition of honoring and appreciating our first responders. I think this is an important day, not just for our country, but also to take a few moments to realize how lucky we are to have what we have.”

This article originally ran on themountaineer.com.

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