Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Church at Ground Zero

George Washington prayed here.

St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan has stood since 1766. It's the oldest continuous use building in New York. Inside you'll still find George Washington's box pew on display. I'm sure our first president offered up prayers for the young country he helped create. Perhaps he prayed for citizens yet to come, hoping they would continue the selflessness that was so needed in those early years.

If so, his prayers were answered in the days and months following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

St. Paul's is a pebble's throw from Ground Zero. When the towers went down those who knew the chapel thought it had to be a goner. But miraculously it was untouched, save for the debris and ash that accompanied the destruction.

There was a reason for this.

The chapel became a base for the rescue workers. They came here for respite and sleep, often lying down right on the wooden pews. Their gear put scuffs and scratches on those pews in what many came to see as holy marks of what was taking place inside St. Paul's.

Over the course of time more than 5,000 volunteers would help turn St. Paul's into a place of refuge and recovery, refreshment and rest. Doctors and lawyers swept floors and served coffee. Single moms and teenagers took out trash and prepared food.

This was America coming together in a time of crisis. It was our true spirit displayed, our best side writ large. That's what I remember most each September 11: the rescue workers and volunteers who became the living, breathing embodiment of "Love thy neighbor."

So on this tenth year of remembrance of 9/11, take a few moments to put down the cell phone, rest the computer, turn off the TV, set aside the e-readers. Find a quiet spot and for a little while think about what's right with our country. Think about­­ the ordinary citizens who, when the chips are down, spring into action and help those in need, and do so without a second thought.

Think about the African American woman, some eighty-years-old, who heard on the news that a worker at Ground Zero had hurt his leg. She got on the subway in the South Bronx and came all the way down to Lower Manhattan. She talked her way through the police lines, would not take No for an answer, and found her way to St. Paul’s. Inside she went up to one of the associate ministers and gave him her own cane to give to the man who was hurt. Then she quietly turned around and hobbled away.

Think about such things for just a little while, and be thankful.


  1. Another amazing 9/11 story. Your post touched me, Jim. I'm finding it hard to say much more than thank you.

  2. I visited this church with my daughters and my is a special place!!!!! Sheila.......

  3. Thanks, Jordan. Indeed, I am awed by these stories, too. There's really not much one can add, if anything.

    Sheila, excellent. I like that they have a pictorial memorial there. My wife and I were quite moved by it.

  4. Your post brought tears to my eyes yet again. It's been a cathartic weekend of reflecting on how our country pulled together when 9/11 happened. Thank you for the reminding us of the care and love shown to others in such a difficult time. May we never forget it.

  5. Dang it . . . I have something in my eye . . .

    In 2003 my little town of 7000 suffered a devastating fire in our Civil War downtown. Firefighters from 25 towns (some across the state line) and volunteer brigades worked with the local National Guard to save a little-known national treasure in the middle of the Kansas prairie. The town lost water pressure as everything we had went to the blaze. We lost a city block but they saved our heart.

    When they had to take a break, the firefighters sat and laid out on the sidewalks under the awnings a block down and just rested while the church ladies and Red Cross clucked and soothed up and down the line with water, snacks, light first aid and kind words. They called families to tell them their men were safe, but wouldn't be home that night.

    Those guys answered the call and saved my hometown. I know our FD would repay the favor in a heartbeat and I hope they never ever have to.

    The good (The Phoenix committee), the bad (businesses gaming repair grant funds) and the stupid (a businessman blaming the FD for not reacting fast enough) happened afterwards like it always does. But for that long brutal day, things were like they are supposed to be.

    Thank you for this. I didn't know the story and will pass it on. And bless the rescuers, every last one of them.

  6. Thanks for sharing that account, Terri. Much appreciated.

  7. I'm climbing on a plane today and flying to NY because I refuse to let 9/11 get me down.

    America and her people are AMAZING!

    This is a beautiful post.

  8. Love it, Kathleen. That's the best reaction to all of this.

  9. It truly is a day to remember the very worst and best in people. Even 10 years on I am always struck by the acts of random kindness and compassion that remind me that the best of humanity ultimately prevails.

  10. That awful day I was fininshing a registered nurse orientation at a local hospital in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia.

    Stunned, like everyone in the nation the classes stopped and the minister amongst us prayed as we all held hands and asked God to stop the attacks.

    The next morning I reported for my first shift at that hospital at 6:45am.

    I was stunned at what I saw there in the halls of the facility.

    Lines of people crowded in the hospital and out to the street
    to donate blood. I'd never seen so many people together in one spot to give of themselves in that way.

    When I came down for lunch the lines for giving blood were still there, replaced by new citizens who could think of no other way to help.

    At 7pm, when my shift was over twelve hours later, still they came and donated blood, that basic gift of the building block of life.

    Never have I been so moved.

    Find a local red-cross office and give blood, folks. It'll do your heart some good.

  11. Thanks for that, Paula, and yes, give blood!

  12. Isn't it sad that our collective consciousness seems to be "people are evil," and so we're surprised when people do good when things go bad? We saw the same kind of turnout this year in Tuscaloosa and Joplin after the tornadoes there. I saw it in Oklahoma City after the federal building bombing in the mid '90s.

    Of course there are bad people out there and they draw our attention. (For which, ironically, we have to be grateful because we write about them--and the good people, too.) But it's a shame that they seem to be the baseline, from which good, selfless behavior is the deviation, not the other way around.

  13. Read "The Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn to find out the real significance of "The Church at Ground Zero."

    1. The video I posted below is a sermon by the author at the 2013 inaugural prayer breakfast.

  14. Please watch this video from the 2013 inaugrual prayer breakfast. This chapel is mentioned.