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Anniversary Day

On this September 11, Trinity Church opened
an exhibit at St. Paul's Chapel to honor the
ministry to ground-zero workers that began
there after the horrors of that September 11.
St. Paul's is different now, reports Ed
Stannard
. Yet memories and emotions hover,
ready to settle and catch visitors unaware.

A banner announces the exhibit at St. Paul's.

For the newly minted heroes -- firefighters,
police, EMTs and rescue workers for whom St.
Paul's was a place apart for eight long months
-- returning on September 11 was a way to thank
those who had served them.

For the volunteers who gave up their time,
social lives, and for some, even their jobs, it
was a chance to remember the rewards of
service, and to reunite with those they once
worked alongside.

For the tourists and New Yorkers who filed in,
some with tears, some with simple curiosity, it
was a chance to see the chapel they had heard
so much about.

St. Paul's, the 1766 chapel of Trinity Church
where George Washington had a pew, now honors
the ordinary people who became extraordinary:
the podiatrists (who worked over calluses and
sores in the pew of the Father of this
country), the musicians, the chiropractors, the
priests, the massage therapists, the
food-service workers.

The chapel also honors those they ministered
to: the workers who came from the site of the
World Trade Center dirty, exhausted, hurt,
traumatized, and grateful for the hallowed
space in which they could eat, talk, sleep, and
grieve.

For them, it is still "heaven's outpost," as
firefighter Robert Senatore of Ladder Company
152 in Queens described it. In a message to the
volunteers, he had written, "By entering
through the gates out front, one can leave
behind the terror and destruction. It has also
allowed me a place to sit and feel the presence
of my fallen brother firefighters missing in
the pile."

New Memorial

After a recent restoration made necessary by
months of round-the-clock use, the walls inside
St. Paul's are freshly painted in pink, blue
and white, the marble floor is polished to a
shine, and outside, the churchyard sod has been
replaced.

The backs of the chapel pews have been left
untouched, however, and they are deeply scored
by boots, buckles and badges -- marks left by
sleeping workers. "These are real marks of
their ministry, sacramental marks," says the
Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, vicar of Trinity
Church, of the decision to leave the pews as
is.

The Visitors

The nave during a minute of silence.

The doors opened at 8 a.m., and the line
continued all day. Many visitors were as
composed as if viewing an art exhibit; others
emerged with teary red eyes.

"I thought it was very moving," said Nancy
Aronson of Bethesda, Md. She, along with five
family members and friends, held a photo of
Myra Joy Aronson of Boston, a passenger on
American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into
the World Trade Center's north tower. "It meant
a lot to us," continued Nancy. "Part of my
sister-in-law's remains were found, so what the
rescue workers did was very important."

Much of the day was typical New York street
theater: A flutist played "Amazing Grace"
incessantly. Visitors came out of the chapel
and immediately made calls on their cell
phones. A Statue of Liberty balloon hovered
above the people's memorial on the fence, which
continued to attract mementos deposited by
passersby. At one point, fire engines screamed
past, echoes of the day a year past.

Overcome by Grief

"They killed so many people!" a woman wailed
from behind St. Paul's, as she looked over the
chapel's ancient headstones to the site where
the towers once stood. As the Rev. Rand Frew, a
longtime chapel volunteer, comforted her, she
proved inconsolable, sobbing until there were
no more tears to sob.

Every half hour, a bell was rung, a moment of
silence was kept, and a volunteer said a
prayer-the pattern simple and holy. At 10:39
am, the moment when the second of the Twin
Towers collapsed, St. Paul's bells joined
others throughout the city and tolled for a
full minute.

The uniformed forces came from all over the
city and from far away. A contingent of police
arrived from Chicago; a number of British
bobbies, who had attended a service at Trinity
Church, came by in their distinctive
round-topped helmets.

Sandy DeMiri, an emergency medical technician
with Battalion 26, spent a long time on the
portico, examining a timeline display of the
previous year's events. She had come about
twice a week to St. Paul's, during the
ministry. "It was very comforting and I just
basically came over to sit down, rest, have
some soup," she said.

Cyrilla Etienne traveled from Boston to see the
chapel that gave life so close to the site of
so much death. A friend was on one of the
planes that crashed into the towers. Her
friend's wife had given birth a few months
before. Etienne lingered at each station,
imagining what had taken place.

"It's hard to describe, kind of surreal," she
said of the exhibit's effect on her. She tried
to picture "the person serving the soup and
giving the fireman the soup and looking into
the fireman's weary face," or the masseuse
"feeling the pain while she's trying to make
them feel better."

She tried to visualize it all: "The dirt and
destruction, how it affected all the people who
came to volunteer. It's amazing the people who
came out of nowhere just to volunteer and give
their time."

Many who returned were people who had been
drawn to St. Paul's during the past year by
that need to help.

"I started out doing once a week at the coffee
table," said Dave, who would only give his
first name. He then became the "Thursday night
dinner captain." Soon he was at St. Paul's
nearly every day, and sometimes in the middle
of the night, thanks to an understanding boss
and a sympathetic wife, who was also a
volunteer.

The hardest time, though, may have been after
the chapel closed. "I felt guilty about not
being here; I had crying jags," Dave said. "The
place gets into your blood." Dave came by the
chapel every day after it closed; it was ten
weeks before he could let go enough to stay
away. On this September 11, he was back to help
again.

Ed Stannard is former news editor of
Episcopal Life and a member of Trinity Church
on the Green, New Haven, Conn.

Posted on September 18, 2002

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