Remembering St. Paul’s Chapel

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Remembering St. Paul’s Chapel, Fulton Street, New York City in the wake of Katrina

Krystyna Sanderson, a parishioner at Grace Church in New York, was the only photographer permitted total access to St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero during the year following September 11, 2001. This large, handsome colonial church building, the oldest in the city, was miraculously unharmed in the attacks and became world-famous as the central place of respite for the firefighters, police, demolition teams, and other workers at the site. As I turned the pages recently of Krystyna’s splendid book of photographs, I realized that one of the major differences between post-9/11 New York and post-Katrina New Orleans is that there is no St. Paul’s for the rescue workers and police in the Crescent City. There has been no place for them to go for massages and home-cooked meals, no place for them to rest their weary heads on a clean pillow, no counseling center for them to retreat to, no one to pray for and with them. (Belying the reputation of the Big Easy, there are no available female groupies to sleep with them, either, as was widely reported to be the case at Ground Zero. Not that St. Paul’s was the scene of these ministrations.)

A reporter for The New York Times writes from New Orleans that on Sunday, September 18, “Downtown, no chaplain could be found to preach for the Salvation Army workers or the soldiers under the Budweiser Hurricane Relief tent down by the casino. The windows were gone from Tilly’s Chapel Services in Bywater, and the doors were closed on the Way Jesus Christ Christian Church on St. Charles Avenue. Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes had spoken of a Mass at St. Louis Cathedral for rescue workers, but gave no certain date.” (Michael Brick, “In a Parking Lot…Sunday Goes On,” NYTimes, 9/19/05)

The person who presided over St. Paul’s Chapel after 9/11 was the Rev. Lyndon Harris, formerly of the Grace Church staff. For some reason he has never gotten the recognition he deserves for this work. Among the many merits of Krystyna’s book of photographs is its recording of his heroic service to the city of New York and the City of God.

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