Trinity Church Wall Street, until recently tucked into the southeastern corner of lower Manhattan’s “frozen zone,” gathered Sunday November 4 for the first worship service inside its imposing Neo-Gothic building since the World Trade Center attacks.
There were echoes during the Parish Eucharist of some of Ground Zero’s ever-present symbols: smoke came in welcome puffs of incense, while water was used not to extinguish fires but to cover the foreheads of two crying babies in the Rite of Baptism.
The smell of things burning lingered, yet the mood inside the church was one in stark contrast to that seven weeks ago, when the building shook and took heavy hits of debris from the collapsing towers. Today, some waited expectantly for worship to begin. Some closed their eyes for prayer. Others gazed upward, captivated by the rich reds and blues of the stained-glass saints.
The church was filled to capacity. Congregants were eager participants in what was at once both an ordinary worship service and, as many called it, “a miracle.”
A 20-strong procession entered the church after Trinity’s Rector, the Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews, and its Vicar, the Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, had opened the great bronze doors facing Wall Street in response to the knocking of the Vicar Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, Right Rev. E. Don Taylor. Later, Bishop Taylor preached a moving, soaring sermon in which he told the congregation: “God wipes away our tears.”
Sitting unassumingly in the back of the church were Kay Feurer and Bernadette Nolan. Both were Roman Catholic and both had traveled from out-of-town to visit New York City. “It’s very emotional to be here,” said Nolan. “This is exactly the right role a church should be playing,” said Feurer.
Long-time parishioner Joan Hepburn said: “It was overwhelming to come home. This church does so much for the poor all over the world. I’m nurtured here… It feels good to be back.”
Seven weeks ago, Trinity Church was playing a different role.
After the planes hit, 13 people entered to pray. An impromptu worship service was organized. The towers came down, shaking the old church, dimming the stained glass windows with dust. More sought shelter, staying as the smoke and debris hovering in the high reaches of the nave slowly descended. Over an hour and a half later, all left safely.
The Parish is over 300 years old, and has served lower Manhattan since it was a village.
During the closure of the main church, the Parish was able to keep her chapel, St. Paul’s, at Broadway and Fulton Street, open and to turn it into the center of a relief operation assisting thousands of volunteers and relief workers.
Trinity’s parishioners were also able to worship -- services were held Sunday afternoons at the Roman Catholic Shrine of St. Elizabeth Seton further south in Manhattan. Father Peter Meehan, pastor at the Shrine, received an extended and enthusiastic standing ovation at Trinity on November 4 when he and his church were honored with a plaque for their hospitality.
One earlier attempt had been made a week after the attack to open Trinity: at the request of local emergency workers, the doors were opened to relief workers who wanted to rest, pray and receive counseling. Emergency management authorities denied the Parish its wish, however, and the signs that read “Enter... Rest... Pray”, set up on music stands inside Trinity Church were of no use.