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United Methodist church draws Wall Street area to worship

9/20/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #415. Photographs are available.

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - It wasn't the usual crowd, but participants at the Sept. 19 "Wonderful Wall Street Wednesday" service at John Street United Methodist Church were vocal in their praise and enthusiasm.

"Welcome back!" exclaimed the Rev. James McGraw, pastor of the small church just a few blocks from "ground zero" of the World Trade Center tragedy. "In trial and tribulation, in fire and terror, the oldest continuous Methodist society in America still stands." The congregation was founded in 1766.

The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, a co-sponsor of the lunchtime ministry, acknowledged the difficulties everyone had experienced, but declared, "We're not going to let this be a ghost town, we're going to let this be a Holy Spirit town."

Under normal circumstances, the Wonderful Wall Street Wednesday service draws 400 or more people from the area. They crowd into the sanctuary, which is lined with stone tablets commemorating individual Methodists, for prayer, praise singing and a short sermon by one of the two pastors or a guest preacher. Some regulars have formed the New Millennium Choir, which rehearses every Monday and sings at the service twice a month.

After a summer hiatus, the Wednesday services had been scheduled to start again on Sept. 12, the day after terrorists brought down the twin towers. But that day, with the area cordoned off to all but rescue workers, McGraw sat in the building alone.

A week later, however, he joyfully shook hands with those who came to the door to worship. In total, an estimated 150 to 200 participants arrived.

"We know that many of you are shaken, and we want to go on with our spiritual and physical lives," Cook told the congregation before they started singing the hymn "This Little Light of Mine."

The Rev. Calvin Butts, a prominent New York clergy leader and senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, was guest preacher. He mentioned that he had met with President Bush the day before in the White House Rose Garden.

Citing such events as the assassination of President Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Butts reminded the group that America is no stranger to tragedy. "It's simply the enormity, the size of what's happened," that makes everything seem worse, he said.

While America will be mournful and sad, he said, "We will, as a nation and as individuals, get through it. The way that we will get through it is learning to manage our fear."

The firefighters who rushed to save people in the World Trade Center towers, for example, managed their fear out of motivation to help fellow citizens.

"If we don't manage our fear, the terrorists have won," Butts said. "If I don't fly, ride the subway or go over bridges, they've won."

People, not buildings, are the pillars of strength for America, the pastor pointed out. "When you go back to work," he told those gathered at John Street, "you be the tower. You stand tall."

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*Bloom is news director of United Methodist News Service's New York office.

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