By Nathan Brockman
With two 12-hour shifts comprising a day at St. Paul’s Chapel, it is estimated that volunteers have logged 14,000 shifts since September in the service of ground-zero’s workers -- at the height of activity serving some 3,000 meals a day. In the coming days, the last meals will be served, the last feet will be cared for, and the last interaction between doting volunteers and ground-zero workers will take place inside the chapel’s walls. A memorable one came during the service today that formally marked the end of the St. Paul’s ministry:
“We love you,” said Inspector Kathy Ryan, of the New York Police Department, to the staff and volunteers of the chapel, and the congregation that had gathered to be part of a tear-filled farewell.
Love was the common theme of the day.
St. Paul’s, via Church Street, adjoins ground zero. Some have called it the miracle church, surviving the collapse of the trade towers with only a blanket of dust and a mattress of debris on its grounds. Some have called it “The Little Chapel that Stood.”
Today’s unadorned service honored the ministry that began spontaneously last September with intrepid cooks grilling hamburgers on a Broadway sidewalk. While it evolved into a staffed operation that put over $1 million in donations to use, coordinated an ever-growing populace of volunteers, and inadvertently attracted VIPs from former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, the ministry’s humble origin and noble purpose were honored today.
Today there were no VIPs: it was just rescue workers, volunteers, and members of the public filling a chapel still decorated with colorful well-wishes from around the country -- children’s letters and banners from schools and churches and even a gallery of funny faces to make people smile on leaving through the front door.
The Eucharist was led by clergy from Trinity Church, the mother church of St. Paul's. The Rev. Lyndon Harris, associate responsible for ministry at the chapel, delivered the homily, citing the privilege he felt being part of the ministry, and also the bittersweet emotion of the day. He said that the 260 days since the ministry began composed a “new season” in which people learned to practice the “reciprocity of gratitude,” and to form “a circle of thanksgiving.”
Rescue workers then spoke to the congregation about how the volunteers’ generosity of spirit made grueling and gruesome workdays bearable.
Rafe Greco, an ironworker who often slept on the cots St. Paul’s provided, said that he and his colleagues would “never have been able to do it without St. Paul’s Chapel.” He added that he was “grateful to God for the opportunity to help” in the recovery effort.
Tom Geraghty, a construction worker whose sister-in-law was a victim of September’s attacks, said that he “cursed God” until he found the chapel. He listed the chapel’s attributes: it was simultaneously a “kitchen,” a “therapist’s couch,” a “little café on Broadway,” a “bedroom,” an “art gallery,” a “doctor’s office.” It was “a place to get my thoughts and emotions back on track.”
Carlos Lopez, an Fire Department of New York emergency medical technician, said that “such an outpouring of love and support was something I never thought I’d experience.”
Volunteers then had their turn, saying prayers from the chapel’s centers of care – the food table, the sacristy, the massage stations and the podiatry box, where the prayer went, “Blessed are those who care for our feet…the one who would be greatest is the one willing to serve.”
A series of special, private events for volunteers and rescue workers are planned for the rest of the week. Then the Parish of Trinity Church will commence with a thorough cleaning of the chapel, which may take weeks. Consultation on the future role of the chapel is underway.
Posted on Trinity News May 29, 2002