From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Trinity's bronze doors swing open again
Thu, 20 Sep 2001 15:40:12 -0400 (EDT)
Trinity's bronze doors swing open again
by Nathan Brockman
(ENS) The displaced members of Trinity Church, at the corner of Wall
Street and Broadway, will reclaim their Gothic building slowly, guided by the
step-by-step easing of restrictions on access to lower Manhattan which will
mark the area's return from hell. A first important step was taken at 10 a.m.
September 19. As the church bell's struck the hour, Trinity's grand bronze
doors were opened and the Financial District's new community--emergency
workers dazed by their round-the-clock work with piles of twisted steel and
rubble--was welcomed inside.
Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, the church had been sealed
off. The thin wire fence erected in front of Trinity, which looked as though
it came from the perimeter of a school playground, seemed more imposing than
the thick black iron bars of her original fence and gate. The previous
Sunday's Eucharist had been moved to the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton,
on State Street a few blocks away.
That arrangement was slated to continue until the public was allowed
access west of Broadway, but the reopening September 19 enabled firemen,
members of the New York Police Department, soldiers, ambulance crews and
others to enter the quietness of Trinity Church to relax, pray and seek
spiritual and psychological healing.
Members of the Trinity family responded to the attacks by helping
traditional rescue workers with their own brand of "it's-my-job" understated
heroics: aiding the safe escape of preschool children, counseling
firefighters at "Ground Zero," saying last rites over body bags, performing
triage at Liberty Plaza before the towers went down. But for the wider
community, the most potent and widely resounding symbol of a church's
congregation is its building.
Now that symbol is alive again, and so is the very practical and
difficult business of counseling the grieving, the overworked, and the
The Rev. Daniel Paul Matthews, Trinity's rector, and the Rev. Samuel
Johnson Howard, vicar, led a crew of building managers and clergy down the
center of a sunny Broadway to Trinity, greeting somber, stern members of the
National Guard and police. "Thank you," "God bless you," the priests said
over and over again. "We're glad you're here."
A small group waited outside the church to observe the symbolic re-
opening of the doors from inside. At 9:55 a.m., sunlight began finding its
way down the channel of Wall Street, striking the left hand side of the
church and the stone molding surrounding the large doors. The sun moved
rapidly over the doors, nearly reaching their full breadth when the church
bells began to ring. "The bells are right; the clock is wrong," said Owen
Burdick, Trinity's choirmaster, pointing up to the mistimed clock. A police
helicopter flew overhead and there was the sound of movement from behind the
big doors. A latch turned, and Matthews, Howard, and two members of Trinity's
building management team, Jim Doran and Michael Borrero, emerged.
"We are so thrilled to be welcoming in the community," said Matthews.
"That is why we are here. We are open for prayer, meditation, healing, and
The church will be open to all allowed to enter the city's restricted
zone, both those working in the Financial District and the rescue workers.
Priests, both Trinity's staff and volunteers, will be inside the church 24
hours a day, seven days a week, for the duration of the crisis.
"Once the fences come down," said Matthews, the church will be open to
all. Later, he reflected that it was "exhilarating to open the bronze doors
up-the sunlight just flowed down Wall Street. It was a magical moment."
From the church steps, in the sunlight, Howard described Trinity in
"This place has always been the spiritual center of downtown Manhattan."
The parish has existed for more than 300 years. For many years, its 28-
storey spire was the tallest building in Manhattan. In the 19th century it
could be seen from afar by approaching ships. Among famous former
parishioners have been Captain Kidd and members of New York's Bleecker
family, many of whom are buried in her vaults. Alexander Hamilton is buried
in the churchyard.
As Wall Street grew, the spire became dwarfed by its giants and
eventually by the World Trade Center itself. Now the building stands facing
the secular capital of the capitalist world, looking down the narrow shaft of
street between skyscrapers, past the New York Stock Exchange towards the East
As Wall Street grew, the parish retained its first-come foothold through
a many-tiered effort at community and worldwide outreach. Messages streaming
into the home email accounts of displaced Trinity staff since the attacks
include notes from current and former recipients of Trinity grants--many from
the African continent.
For many decades, nearly all of Trinity's parishioners traveled from
other parts of the city, or even from out of state, to join Sunday services.
But as mid-town Manhattan has grown as an office district and the downtown
area has revived as a residential neighborhood, increasing numbers of
parishioners have come from within the boundaries of the parish.
On September 11, the church building became a shelter for a group of
about 15 people after two commercial airliners slammed into buildings One and
Two of the World Trade Center complex, just a few blocks away. Some were
there specifically to pray. They were led by the Rev. Stuart Hoke, executive
assistant to the rector, who had crossed a pedestrian bridge spanning Trinity
Place from the church's office building. People prayed in audible whispers.
Hoke had just begun to sing, "O God Our Help In Ages Past," when a
terrible rumble shook the granite church. The lights flickered and went out,
and when the rumble ceased, the stained glass, once brilliant in the bright
blue day, was dim.
"I thought, hey, I'm a spiritual guy, so I came to Trinity Church," said
one man, who sat for much of the time as impassively as the church in a far
corner near the sacristy. A woman went from person to person asking, "Have
you found Jesus?"
The group in the church waited for an hour and a half, as smoke and dust
clogged the entrances and exits, the upper reaches of the tall nave and the
basement. When the smoke cleared from the entranceway, they left.
In interviews September 19, Matthews said it was "a miracle" that the
church remained structurally unchanged. He had been particularly concerned
that the spire might fall. (When subway tunnels were dug underneath Broadway,
the church had begun to lean until engineers arranged the proper support.)
As he spoke, clergy made their way inside and a swarm of workers cleaned
the pews with cloths and swept and vacuumed the church floors. The
electricity was on. The stained glass behind the altar had resumed its
brilliance. "There will be 60-70 workers," said Dr. Matthews. "We're not
going to stint the cleaning."
Touring the churchyard, he told accompanying television crews: "The
presence of God in people's lives is far more real today than it has ever
been." He continued: "Trinity's mission in the past few years has been to
reconnect people with their spirituality. This event has people asking,
'What's it all about?' People are getting back to the basic questions. The
mission has just been enhanced."
In front of some gravestones were little piles of debris and rubble.
A worker was loading them into black garbage bags and using a wheelbarrow
to take them to a growing pile of about 50 bags.
Earlier in the day, clergy had stopped at St. Paul's, just across Church Street
from the World Trade Center, where many gravestones were toppled and cut into
pieces. Charred office papers littered the churchyard.
Inside the church, there was surprisingly little damage, considering the
proximity to the devastation across the street. Delicate chandeliers dangled
from the ceiling like precious diamond earrings.
St. Paul's was being used as a relief center for emergency workers. A police
officer was sleeping in the second to front pew. Another was putting his equipment
belt back on--it thudded heavily on the wooden pew--and shuffled wearily over to
end-to-end tables, where bagels, coffee, and pink Dunkin' Donuts boxes lay. Next
to one of the church's pillars were stacked boxes of apples. Just inside the porch
were medical supplies, and outside stood the grills on which burgers and hot dogs
were prepared at meal times.
--Nathan Brockman is managing editor of Trinity's website.
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .