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Celebrating the Relief Ministry at Saint Paul's Chapel

By the Rev. Lyndon Harris

The poet said “…mid-winter spring is its own season.” The period spanning from the terrorists attacks until today is its own season. It’s an odd season lasting 260 days. Although the calendars will tell us it has taken us through 3 seasons—fall, winter, and spring—many of us have no recollection of these changes. We just got up, day after day, dressed accordingly, and went about the monumental task of making sense out of absurdity, of bringing order out of chaos, and reclaiming our humanity from violence which seeks to make human life less human. Along the way, it has been a season of remembrance as we have mourned the loss of loved ones. It has been a season of improvisation as we have tried, often at our wit’s end, to respond to the needs emerging from these never-before-experienced acts of terrorism. It has been a season of renewal as we have tried to look toward the future for a brighter tomorrow-- a day when our commonalities will overcome our divisions, when violence will be overcome by compassion, and hatred will be swallowed up by kindness. Ultimately, what began in hatred has evolved into, in the words from that great song in the musical Rent, a season of love.

We gather today to offer thanks for the ministry we have been blessed to share here at St Paul’s Chapel. Given birth through the labor of three institutions—The Seamen’s Church Institute, The General Theological Seminary, and Trinity/St Paul’s, along with tons of personal friends, and support from the Diocese of New York as well as the National Church. The ministry at St Paul’s has been a collaborative venture from the start. Today, we give thanks for our volunteers—over 5000 strong—who have come from all walks of life from all over the country to give of themselves in support of the recovery effort. Musicians, grief counselors, clergy, podiatrists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and food service personnel have offered their special gifts and have, quite literally, transformed us. Lawyers, judges, soccer moms, and entrepreneurs of every imaginable type have come together to pour coffee, sweep the floors, take out the trash, and hand out sweatshirts, and to serve over a half million meals. And some of our earliest volunteers were men from the St Paul’s Men’s Shelter—they proudly took their turn flipping burgers on the grills in the early days. Emerging here is a dynamic I like to refer to as a “reciprocity of gratitude” – a circle of thanksgiving--in which people have risen to the Scriptural challenge “…to try and outdo one another in showing love.” Both giver and receiver have been changed by it. This circle of gratitude is infectious. And I hope it spreads. I hope it turns into an epidemic.

And, as we celebrate all who have played a role in this ministry, let us not forget that the principle character in this drama is the Holy Spirit.

We have heard much about the miracle of St Paul’s, about the fact that our building is still standing, and indeed it is miraculous. But the real miracle at St Paul’s has been the way in which the Holy Spirit has raised up in this place a community of individuals committed to acts of compassion and goodwill, a community which has sought to practice the art of radical hospitality.

In our Gospel reading for today, we encounter that prophetic text in Matthew 25 in which Jesus makes it clear that when you have given a cup of cold water to the thirsty, when you clothe the naked, when you take care of the sick, you are taking care of Jesus Himself. This is a call for the church to be a missional community—to be a community that exists, not for itself, but for the sake of others. Emil Brunner once said that “…the church exists by mission the way a fire exists by burning.” Well, thanks to the kindness of our volunteers, and for the outpouring of love from all over the world, this place has been on fire for the Lord. And for that fact, let us not cease to give thanks.

And now I want to give the final words of the sermon to a young girl named Jan who sent me an email the other day.

Hello. My name is Jan and I am 14 years old. I live in New Jersey and I just wanted to commend (the volunteers) at Saint Pauls Chapel for all of their hard work since September 11, 2001. Unfortunatley, my mom’s birthday was 9/11, but this has changed mine and hers lifes. My mom was very close to Mychal Judge and when I heard that he had died, I wanted to help so bad. My mom has worked at the church to help the workers and she said that it was a life changing experience. If I was 18 I would be helping in a "New York Second." I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah last year, and when I heard about 9/11 I gave 10% of my earnings to the relief funds, and I hope that you got some of it. But I just wanted to commend the church on all its hard work and I would help at your church anyday.

Thank you,

Jan

AMEN.

The Rev. Lyndon Harris is the associate responsible for ministry at St. Paul's Chapel, Broadway at Fulton, which had from September 11, 2001 to May 29, 2002 focused its ministry on ground-zero workers. The chapel will be closed for cleaning and painting before reopening to the public later in the summer.

Posted on Trinity News June 6, 2002

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