Off the beaten path

Not my usual subject matter (goings-on at the hospital) but I just had to share what a gift we had in our town the past couple of days. The Rev. Dan Matthews, rector emeritus of Trinity Church Wall Street, spoke at two churches here.

On Sunday, he preached at mine and Michael’s church, led a lunch gathering about stewardship, and a Sunday school class on what it was like to be in New York on 9/11. Trinity Wall Street and its accompanying St. Paul’s Chapel are both within blocks of the Twin Towers.

Then today, Dan spoke at a Lenten lunch series held annually at another church. He’s a great preacher in the vein of great storytellers. Before you know it, a mesmerizing tale has turned into a biblical lesson, or three.

A few snippets I took from his visit: On 9/11, he was taking part in a meeting in the church offices in Manhattan. When the first plane hit, someone in the meeting thought it could have been a blown gas main. Others thought it might have been a rocket. The adults scrambled down the office’s many flights of stairs and each retrieved one child apiece from the church’s daycare. That was long their drill. That day amounted to about 75 kids.

They all scurried to a room in the basement, only to have it fill with what they thought was smoke from a fire, but actually it was all the dust and debris filtering in from the outside, through the A/C unit.

Attempting repeatedly to open a door to the outside, they failed. Dan thought they would all die, so full of smoke was the basement. A Catholic friend confided he was OK, as he’d just given confession, but then confessed to Dan again. Moments later, the door opened and they and the children all made it to safety.

In the months to come, St. Paul’s Chapel would be turned into a relief center for all those working or volunteering at Ground Zero. I remember reading reports of this at the time. Certainly other congregations and agencies were pitching in, as well, but because of its proximity to the World Trade Center, St. Paul’s became a natural outreach center.

It was open for eight months, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They did everything from serving food to giving massages to conducting counseling sessions. Imagine talking to people who come in and say things like, “We just found a foot.”

Today’s lunch message was on the Beatitudes, otherwise known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Dan started off with illustrations of how we all, each of us, like to feel privileged. He mentioned the cards common these days in wallets: preferred member of thus-and-such store, a certain level at airports that gets us better access, and into shorter lines. And that a town of just 500 people may have one of the latest trends: storage units. Dan asked: What are we doing with all this STUFF? (On a side note, ever read the book “Affluenza”?)

Dan was cool in that he wasn’t laying on the guilt as if he himself weren’t part of the human race in 21st century North America; he very much associates with what he called the dominant culture–this culture that says you have to have more and more of the Latest Thing in order to be fulfilled, or even counted.

Contained in my faith tradition, the Beatitudes turn this on its head: Blessed are the poor  in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. There’s more, but you get the idea.

If you ever have occasion to hear Dan Matthews preach or give a talk, go. Immediately.


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