Resurrection at Ground Zero:
St. Paul's Chapel Responds with
Courage and Love
confronted with devastation as overwhelmingly horrific as
that of Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood,
my initial response was despair. How could human beings inflict
such misery on one another, and do so while inciting the name
I used to work in the World Financial Center, a large office
complex literally across the street from the World Trade Center.
Every day I would get off the subway at the Fulton Street
stop, climb the steps into the light, and look up at the World
Trade Center looming above me. I would get a charge walking
across the mall, between the twin towers to my office. That
subway stop is closed now; its entrance is where a line forms
for the public viewing platform overlooking the gigantic crater
at Ground Zero, commonly known as "the pit."
viewing platform is adjacent to St. Paul's Chapel. President
George Washington was one of the worshippers at St. Paul's.
Erected in 1766, it is the oldest public building in Manhattan
in continuous operation. St. Paul's is part of Trinity Wall
Street, a vital Episcopal church just a few blocks to the
south, on the edge of Ground Zero, and had been the site of
some of Trinity's alternative worship services for urban youth.
My favorite was the "hip hop mass." The highly successful
services came to an abrupt halt on 9/11. On
September 12, 2001, St. Paul's became the relief center for
the recovery workers at Ground Zero—a refuge for the
firemen, policemen, and emergency workers who first saved
lives and now search for decaying body parts amidst the rubble.
Paul's is reserved strictly for the recovery squads. Their
work continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,
and St. Paul's is open for them around the clock. As many
as eighty people sleep there at night. High quality food is
served by some of New York's' top restaurateurs, headed by
food service captain Martin Cowart, formerly of the Basset
Café. The chapel offers a masseuse and music performed
by volunteers from the Julliard School, among others. Its
walls are covered with handmade drawings, letters, and tributes
of encouragement from school children from all over the world.
Services and communion (the holy Eucharist) are held daily.
was invited to visit St. Paul's by Fred Burnham, the well-respected
head of the Trinity Institute. In addition to his "day
job" as a leading theologian, Fred spends four nights
a week at St. Paul's as a volunteer. Unbeknownst to Fred,
my grandfather died on the same day I saw "the pit"
for the first time. Navigating my way through the somber crowd
waiting to climb up to the viewing platform, I entered St.
Paul's with a heavy heart. While my experience pales in comparison
to so many affected by 9/11, the timing of my visit made the
reality of death particularly poignant. Unexpectedly my spirits
lifted at the sight of the numerous cheerful volunteers ministering
to the rescue workers inside the church.
Everyone there—the priests, the volunteers, and the
recovery workers—was joyful. Joy is not what I had expected
Paul's has literally kept some of these workers alive. One
told a reporter that the chapel was the only thing that had
kept him from putting a bullet in his head. Every day was
spent groping for body parts in the pit, he explained, but
"I get to come here."
before I left, Fred and the Rev. Lyndon Harris, the associate
in charge of St. Paul's, took me to the second floor balcony
where there is a side room with a window. The view overlooks
a tree-covered cemetery at the back of the church. The cemetery
abuts the massive 20-acre pit where the World Trade Center
once stood. The ancient trees protected St. Paul's from the
blast when the towers collapsed. Looking out the window, I
saw the devastation of the pit in the distance, the graves
below, and new green leaves budding on the ravaged trees rising
to sky. In one corner of the cemetery, a single tree was covered
with flowers in bloom. Looking out at the scene below, remembering
my grandfather, and contemplating the ministries taking place
around me, I could only think about the resurrection. Two
thousand years ago, God turned evil on its head and used it
for his purposes. Today, He is doing the same thing at Ground
Zero through his followers at Trinity and St. Paul's, who
are quietly doing good works in his name.
To view photographs and read more about the Ground Zero ministry,
visit the web site of Saint