'We lived and worked in the shadow of the World Trade Center. Now we live and work in the shadow of the cross,' the Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard said in his sermon given in a moving service on Sunday September 16. It was the first time the congregation of Trinity Church Wall Street had gathered since the World Trade Center tragedy last Tuesday. So appropriate and accurate were his words that when the phrase was first uttered, the roughly 100 people filling the small church's wooden pews seemed to gasp.
Trinity has been worshiping in downtown Manhattan for more than 300 years and wasn't about to let the disaster prevent it celebrating the Eucharist on Sunday.
Trinity's staff had worked late into the previous night in efforts to gain permission from the city to hold the service either in the church or in front of it, on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. But the area including the church remained off-limits for safety reasons. Parish leaders then took up an offer to hold the service at the Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born person to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and a member of Trinity Parish in her youth.
Other offers were generously made, but Trinity wanted its congregation to be as close to its church building as possible. The shrine is at the south end of Manhattan, a red-brick building with white pillars that faces the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
It was the first time 'back at the bench,' for Dr. Owen Burdick, Trinity's director of music, after his terrifying hours inside Trinity Church the previous Tuesday. His criteria for choosing hymns: some reference to the September 14 service at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, some correlation between Anglican and Roman Catholic hymnals, and some doses of appropriate theology.
The congregation sang, 'The Church's One Foundation,' 'O God Our Help in Ages Past,' 'The King of Love My Shepherd Is,' 'Taste and See,' and, 'There's a Wideness in God's Mercy.'
Four members of Trinity's clergy joined Father Howard - the Rev. Gay Silver, the Rev. Stuart Hoke, the Rev. James G. Callaway, and the Rev. Mitties De Champlain.
A sign of hope
On Tuesday, when the south tower of the Trade Center collapsed, Hoke had been leading an impromptu service in Trinity in response to the attack, singing 'O God Our Help in Ages Past.' He got to finish the hymn on Sunday. 'It brought me to tears, singing that one,' he said while greeting people after the service.
The mood in the church was at once sorrowful and hopeful. 'Evil is real,' said Howard. 'We needed to be together today to think of eternity. The last words will always be love, mercy, and eternal life.'
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and New York's Bishop Mark Sisk joined the congregation for the service. Griswold said after the service that he was 'trying to be centered for the sake of others, and dealing with rage and sadness.'
He added, 'We have all suffered a trauma not quickly resolved,' and offered the related advice to 'spend a lot of time listening to people, naming the emotions we are feeling.'
Griswold had visited St. Paul's Chapel the day before, 'writing a note in the sacristy,' before running into the Rev. Lyndon Harris. He also had a good look at Trinity Church, and said that 'the churches are still standing, still intact, waiting to welcome people again.' He saw the small congregation gathered Sunday as 'an incredible sign of hope.'