NEW YORK – For nearly nine months, St. Paul's Chapel has provided spiritual and physical rest and nourishment to workers at the World Trade Center site a few hundred feet away.
On Wednesday, a day before the city commemorated the end of the disaster site's cleanup, the Episcopal church held its last Eucharistic service for hundreds of workers and volunteers. Its doors were then to close for the church's first cleaning since the terrorist attack.
Construction worker Tom Geraghty, whose sister-in-law was killed on Sept. 11, described what the chapel near ground zero had given him.
"It's a wonderful place, this sanctuary, this refuge from the devastation, this kitchen, this bathroom, this doctor's office, this bedroom, this therapist's couch, this music hall, this massage table, this art gallery: This little cafe on Broadway," he said during the service.
"Every morning a person from another part of our great country would hand me a cup of coffee and ask how I was doing," he said, his voice quavering, "and they meant it."
The chapel, once in the shadow of the trade center, survived the neighboring complex's destruction and has since been converted over the months into an all-purpose relief center. It is due to reopen to the public sometime this summer.
Art and notes from children from around the country plaster the walls. Cots line one wall, and doctors and massage therapists treat workers' injuries, ranging from blisters to depression. In the back of the church, food and drink are available. Its pews bear heavy scratches, apparently from the tools that dangle from many of the workers' belts.
Several rescue workers at the service said the community at the church had become an extended family, a feeling that Geraghty said was important because "I didn't get to see mine very often."
The Rev. Lyndon Harris said the church had become "an oasis, a haven of hospitality in which those people who enter the door are bathed in love."
Over the course of the recovery effort, the church served more than 500,000 meals and filled roughly 14,000 shifts with 5,000 volunteers.
Though it was closed to the public during that period, the church offered a Eucharistic each noon for the volunteers and workers. Its "relief ministry" became a $1 million dollar effort, financed completely by donations.
The fences outside the church continue to be a kind of memorial wall, where visitors have left notes, signs, flowers and other mementos of support and solidarity.
Around the corner, hundreds stood on a viewing platform to catch a glimpse of the now empty pit where the trade center once stood.
At the service, the Rev. Daniel Matthews wore a red cloak covered with patches from police, fire and rescue crews from around the country.
Massage therapist Georgia Haneke's eyes welled with tears as others sang hymns. She said the church has come to symbolize "serving humanity and trying to bring order to chaos."
Rafe Greco, 34, an ironworker, told the roughly 300 people at the service, "I found so much peace here." His boots and clothes were dirty with the grime of the trade center; an American flag-print bandanna covered his head.
Earlier, Greco, wiping sweat from his forehead, scanned the art in the church. "I don't think that I'll ever forget this place."