Ray Anglesea shared these thoughts with the congregation at Crook last Sunday
Last year at Eastertide my wife and I had the privilege of attending morning worship at St Paul’s Chapel, Lower Manhattan, New York City, a chapel steeped in history. The chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan (1766). George Washington was reputed to have prayed there on the day of his inauguration at the nearby Federal Hall, and worshipped at the chapel during the two years New York served as the nation’s capital. Washington’s pew, with a painting of the Great Seal of the United States above, is still pointed out to the 25,000 visitors each year.
The chapel is modelled on the classical proportions and domestic details of architect James Gibb’s St Martin in the Field, London (1722/26). The chapel’s simple elegant rectangular sanctuary, the pale colours, the flat ceiling, the ample endowed gallery and cut glass chandeliers (original) are all reminiscent of contemporary domestic 18th century Georgian chapel interiors.
The rear of St Paul’s Chapel faces Church Street opposite the east side of the World Trade Centre site (WTC). After the attack on September 11 2001 which led to the collapse of the twin towers of the WTC, St. Paul’s Chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the WTC later to become known as Ground Zero. For eight months the church was closed to visitors as hundreds of volunteers worked 12-hour shifts around the clock, serving meals, making beds, counselling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others. Massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and musicians also tended to their needs. Children from around the world sent messages of hope, sadness, honour, and peace.
The fence around the church grounds became the main spot for visitors to place impromptu memorials to the event. After it became filled with flowers, photos, teddy bears, and other paraphernalia, chapel officials decided to erect a number of panels on which visitors could add to the memorial. Estimating that only 15 would be needed in total, they eventually required 400.
On the day of the attack, the church yard was filled with debris, but only one tree was felled. Remarkably, not a single pane of glass was broken nor were any headstones damaged. It was a giant sycamore tree, almost a century old, located on the northwest corner of the site that was hit by debris. The tree’s root has since been preserved in a bronze memorial by sculptor, Steve Toblin. Today the sculpture is located on the forecourt of the parish church of Trinity, Manhattan (1846).
Among the pews inside of the chapel were many displays honouring the fallen heroes of 9/11. In 2008, the damaged pews were removed and replaced with free-standing chairs to allow for more flexibility and larger audiences. Three of the pews were donated to the 9/11 Museum.
During morning worship my wife and I sat in rows of chairs that face each other north and south across a central axis. We later moved to the square free standing altar for Holy Communion, located not at the east end as would be familiar, but behind the lectern at the west end of the chapel, just footsteps from the doorway that looks out onto the former site of the World Trade Centre. After communion the priest replaced a cross of nails, taken from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in England, which was bombed in World War II back on the altar.
Looking out towards ground zero from the communion table I tried to bring to mind the nearly 3,000 people from more than 90 countries who died in the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon (they included 67 British people and 246 passengers and crew on board four planes – nearly all of those who perished were civilians with the exceptions of 72 law enforcement officers, 343 fire-fighters, and 55 military personnel). I also remembered the prayer of St Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” and thought of the agents of peace who in September 2001 worked tirelessly to bring support and help to those in need.
By the end of September, it was estimated that some 3,500 rescue workers, police and fire personnel had been sleeping on chapel pews, being fed by supermarket chains, administered to by nurses whilst clergy celebrated communion and psychiatrists helped the traumatised. I guess it wasn’t the chapel that so much became a beacon of light, but human beings at their very best. Lord make us instruments of your peace? These people who worked from the chapel, by God’s grace were agents of peace, vehicles of grace and channels of God’s love. In a world of 9/11s God too makes us instruments of peace too, to sow hope where there is despair and chaos, to provide faith to the faithless and lost.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, marked the worst terrorist attack in world history and the deadliest foreign act of destruction to life and property on American soil since the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941. And today, on this the 14th anniversary and on every anniversary in New York City, the names of the victims who died will be read out. The Bell of Hope donated to New York City by the Mayor of London on September 11, 2002 to mark the first year anniversary of the attacks on The World Trade Centre Complex and found in the church yard, is rung on the anniversary every year.
11th September 2015
Minister, St Andrew’s Dawson Street, Crook