News & Blogs

Voices from the Trinity community

Reflecting on the 11th

by Nan Cobbey, Jerry Hames, Jan Nunley and Jim Solheim

Outside Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel, wind whipped the dust of Ground Zero into the eyes of New Yorkers, and people remembered the ash of a year ago. Tracts published by various religious groups inviting the crowds on Broadway to prayer or repentance swirled in the streets, reminding many of the memos and reports fluttering from the Trade Center towers on that day.

Inside, all was reverence and remembrance, as the two Episcopal churches most directly affected by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, marked the one-year anniversary with prayer and worship.

Trinity and St. Paul's, together the Parish of Trinity Church, scheduled a full day of meditation and reflection and worship. It was also a day filled with music, some of it written by members of Trinity's staff, including music director Owen Burdick. At 10:29 a.m., the time the second World Trade Center tower collapsed, and then every hour on the hour, the bells in both churches rang in mourning and memory.

Hope and healing

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey had come to New York to be with the church for a time of remembering. He preached at an unusually timed 11 a.m. Evensong, broadcast live over BBC Radio to audiences listening in Great Britain at what was the proper time there. The service was the centerpiece of Trinity's "Day of Hope and Healing."

Carey joined the Lord Mayor of the City of London, the Right Honorable Michael Oliver, in presenting Trinity and the City of New York with a bell cast by the Whitechapel Foundry, the same foundry that created the Liberty Bell and the bells of Trinity's "mother parish" in London, St. Mary-le-Bow.

"May the bell ring out loud and clear to celebrate the spirit and resilience of the people of New York," said Oliver. "Fill now this bell with your heavenly blessing, that the voice of its ringing may banish the power of every evil from the city of your faithful people," Carey prayed, making the sign of the cross over the half-ton bronze bell. "May its sound extinguish all the arrows of their fiery destruction falling upon us, and by your all powerful and mighty hand, let every harmful wind be held back and driven away."

The bell was then stuck three times by the Bishop of New York, Mark S. Sisk, filling the church with long-reverberating tones.

The bell is inscribed: "To the greater glory of God and in recognition of the enduring links between the City of London and the City of New York. Forged in adversity--11 September 2001." It will join another bell from St. Mary-le-Bow, sent at the end of the Second World War, that also has its home in the parish.

Vulnerability and interdependence

In his sermon, Carey reminded those gathered that, in the face of evil, Christians are called to combat and resist, but also to remember their common humanity and to "do justice."

"Like it or not, we are involved in one another, caught up in one another's sufferings and joys, triumphs and tribulations… This is as true of nations as it is of individuals," he said.

Yet Carey also had a warning for those who filled the neo-gothic church just blocks from Ground Zero, and for those listening in the street and sidewalk out front, or watching an Internet webcast of the service. "It is perhaps when we feel most vulnerable that we may find it hardest to embrace this challenge of interdependence," he said. "At times when we want above all to feel safe and secure, there is often a dangerous temptation to draw back rather than to engage… to retreat behind walls that we may wish to believe are impregnable… That urge may be especially strong when we believe we have not only right but also might on our side. When we have not only the motive but also the means. But surely the test of true greatness for peoples and nations must be that they are motivated by what should be done, not by what could be done."

Poignant moments were scattered throughout the liturgy, including an anthem by English composer Herbert Howells based on a text by the fifth-century Roman Christian, Prudentius. "Body of a man I bring thee, noble even in its ruin," sang the Trinity Choir. "Once was this a spirit's dwelling, by the breath of God created…Not though wandering winds and idle drifting through the empty sky, scatter dust was nerve and sinew, is it given to man to die."

Memories of service

Outside St. Paul's Chapel, where blustery winds of up to 50 miles per hour swirled up dust from the World Trade Center site just a few hundred feet away, mourners waited patiently to enter the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.

It was to St. Paul's, where George Washington had a pew, that recovery workers, police, and firefighters came for dry clothing, personal necessities, hot food, cots and pews upon which to sleep, physical therapy, and counseling, during the long months they toiled in the rubble behind the church.

Tied to the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the old chapel were thousands of signed shirts, hats, stuffed animals, badges, flowers, and other gifts left in remembrance.

Once inside, visitors passed through an exhibit that recounted the service volunteers had provided, along with testimonials and letters from grateful recipients. Banners and signs of encouragement from communities and churches across America, removed last June for the thorough cleaning of the building, were back in place, hanging from the balcony wall above the nave.

Throughout the day, St. Paul's was a venue for quiet reflection. Hundreds filed through hourly. Many moved to the pews for prayer and meditation, including police, firefighters, and emergency medical workers from across the nation.

Testament to ministry

"This is the most appropriate place to pay my respects," said Ramiro Zapata, an emergency medical technician from Austin, Texas, sitting on a bench outside the chapel as he listened to the names being read of the 2,801 people killed and missing in the attack.

Zapata came to New York on his own initiative. "I took some time off to come and heal myself," he said. "I was in Vietnam and I know the scars of many people will never heal."

Many of the visitors left a behind a memento to mark their visit. Zapata left an Austin firefighter's badge.

"Things keep appearing," said Lynn Brewster, graphic design director of Trinity Church who lead the team creating the exhibition. "Two days before September 11, I got an anonymous phone call from a man, who said he was a World War II veteran, to tell me something had been left by the fence.

"I found he had made a three-foot carving of upraised hands, a replica of the twin towers, from a 50-year-old tree, with the dog tags of a close friend and co-veteran who had died in the World Trade Center attack," Brewster said.

Diane Reiners, who worked at St. Paul's as one of four on-site coordinators of 1,400 volunteers in nine months, said the exhibit is a testament to every single day of their ministry. "People will see that giving is a joy," she said.

Once an actress, Reiners has left that profession to help found a company that advocates and facilitates volunteerism. "Through service we will change the world," she said. "It's the only way we will change the world."

A community reformed

A few miles uptown, the General Theological Seminary added its chapel bells to the chorus of New York churches in remembering those who died. In his sermon at the noon-hour Eucharist, Professor Mark Richardson invoked the image of firemen rushing into buildings and, at great personal risk, trying to save people because they believed that all life is sacred.

With the sound of military jets passing overhead, Richardson said it is inevitable to ask where God was on that fateful day--but it is a question that should be asked on other occasions as well. He said that it is "hard to let go because we are possessed by this occasion of seeing violence up close." The memory of those events has become "an ambiguous symbol that shouldn't be turned into self-righteous patriotism," he said, one that prevents us from seeing the larger picture.

The seminary responded quickly in the weeks following the attack on the World Trade Center, coordinating hundreds of volunteers and supplies at Ground Zero and ministering to rescue workers. Faculty members served as chaplains at Chelsea Piers, a few blocks from the seminary, which became a medical emergency center and temporary morgue. It also opened its chapel and campus to citizens seeking comfort.

"That involvement reformed the seminary community, connecting it to the neighborhood and the city in new ways," said Dean Ward Ewing. Admitting that the seminary community has had a tendency to be "cloistered," he said that "it opened doors that won't ever be closed again."

A week after a new class joined the seminary community, those who had lived through the events a year ago are sharing their experiences and their reflections.

"It was a humbling experience for many of those who were involved," said Mary Louise Ball, one of the first volunteers. As they moved through the experience, however, "we developed a new gentleness with each other."

"I felt more alive during that time than at any time in my life," said Mary Morris, who headed the volunteer efforts at the seminary. "We were in an awesome, magnificent place where we could actually help--and we were able to devise a way to get others involved."

Joanne Ciacciarelli, another early volunteer, said that her involvement had been "a healing process" but that now, a year later, she is feeling "lost and empty," trying to process the implications of the tragedy.

A rainbow of religions

Further north, the Episcopal Church Center remained open on September 11. But this year its midtown Manhattan neighborhood was awash in security surrounding the opening of a new session of the United Nations, just a block away. "We ought to be here, where we were a year ago because this is the place, the space, where so many gathered," Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said at a meeting of the staff in the Chapel of Christ the Lord. He noted that staff had been heavily involved in chaplaincy at Ground Zero--especially Bishop George Packard of Armed Services, Prison, and Healthcare Ministries. Packard was participating in commemoration services at the Pentagon.

Other Manhattan Episcopal churches marked the day with memorial services, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and St. Bartholomew's, where U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan joined a rainbow of religious leaders from a dozen faiths for prayers. Services held the night before at St. Thomas' Church on Fifth Avenue honored the dead from Great Britain.



--Nan Cobbey is features editor for Episcopal Life. Jerry Hames is editor of Episcopal Life. The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service. Jim Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.

Posted on Trinity News, September 13, 2002

Blog Category: