On a recent trip to New York City with my granddaughter Amanda, we left the very moving 9-11 Memorial and took the short walk across the street to St. Paul’s Chapel. It was my third visit to Ground Zero since September 11, 2001, and each time it was this small chapel, even more than the tragic site of the World Trade Center, that brought me to tears. I said to Amanda, ‘It’s as if God placed his hand over this little church to protect it when all around it was being destroyed. He seemed to be saying to all those who suffered so much, ‘I will be with you in this. This is My house, and it will not be destroyed’.”
Walking through the quaint cemetery in front of St. Paul’s Chapel one feels a sense of peace. All the frantic noise and activity of the city seems distant as you enter the doors of the little church that immediately served as a sanctuary for survivors and rescue workers on Sept. 11. For nine months it provided a resting place for the weary and comfort for the distraught. Meals, hugs and prayers were the sustenance offered.
St. Paul’s had an impressive history even before Sept. 11, 2001. Completed in 1766, it is where George Washington worshiped on his Inauguration Day in 1789, and where he often attended services during the two years New York was our nation’s capital. Part of the parish of Trinity Episcopal Church in lower Manhattan, it is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and its remaining colonial church.
Yet each time I stand in that sanctuary that the Lord miraculously protected so it could be a solace to those who grieved, I know it is so much more than a wonderful old building. The postings of photographs of those lost or comforted remind me that the church does not consist of stone and mortar regardless of how beautiful its architecture might be. The church consists of us, the people who believe in the one true God and turn to Him for sanctuary in good times—and in bad. The Living God indwells us. We are the church as we go about ministering to the needs of people and welcoming others into the presence of the Lord. We are the church, and where we stand is holy ground.