After terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, the Manhattan congregation hosted memorial services, provided counseling and raised $400,000 for victims of the attacks.
But as Christmas approaches, it's time for a change. Rather than keep the dark mood through the holidays, the Unitarian Universalist congregation hopes to buoy members' spirits with its usual celebration, including a choir and 20-piece orchestra who play at services.
``We have responded to the tragedy in depth and will continue to do so,'' said the Rev. Forrest Church, the senior pastor. ``But part of that response is to feel joy more deeply, recognizing life's preciousness and fragility.''
Other churches and Christian organizations throughout New York are trying to strike a similar balance during a Christmas season that will unavoidably be linked to the tragedy of Sept. 11.
The celebration at Trinity Church, the 300-year-old Episcopal parish blocks from ground zero, will be bittersweet: The church's St. Paul's Chapel, which has been used as a 24-hour relief center for rescue workers, will be open to the public for services for the first time since Sept. 11.
Christian counselors at the Billy Graham Prayer Center in Manhattan will be available to take calls from those whose grief cannot be eased, and may even be intensified, by holiday lights and family gatherings.
``We had a couple of calls around Thanksgiving, but we expect it to be a little worse around Christmas,'' said Fred Baye, who manages the prayer center.
The group has been helping coordinate relief work at St. Joseph's Chapel at the edge of the smoldering ruins, offering rescuers everything from food to counseling to special Bibles. Christmas dinner will be held in the chapel, where a holiday tree now stands.
``We understand that a great deal of the healing process is usually helped along by a person's faith,'' said Detective Ana Alvarez, vice president of Police Officers for Christ. ``We've been working with several churches to be able to provide literature and basic creature comforts.''
Trinity's parish, which includes the church and St. Paul's as well as several other buildings, has been slowly reopening to the public since Sept. 11, when dust and shards of glass filled the church sanctuary and stunned rescue workers staggered inside, seeking shelter.
In November, Trinity Church began once again holding services. As city authorities opened more streets around the disaster area, the crowds visiting the parish grew, so Trinity put out a dropcloth and pens for people to leave messages of condolence and prayer.
Ministers then decided to open St. Paul's Chapel for Christmas, even though dust inside the chapel organ rendered the instrument inoperable for the holidays and rescue workers would continue using the building.
John Peck, of Christian Publications Bookstore in Manhattan, has been helping evangelical groups around ground zero distribute tens of thousands of religious pamphlets, with titles such as, ``Remembrance: Fallen But Not Forgotten'' and ``After the Dust Settles.''
Peck, a pastor ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, anticipates Christmas services this year at his church, New Life Fellowship, will ``have a 9-11 flavor.''
``When everything first happened, pastors had to be able to speak with clarity and conviction as to where God was in the midst of this,'' Peck said. ``Now, as you approach the end of holiday season, people will be wondering, can God carry me through this?''
At All Souls, the Rev. Church expects the counseling and spiritual seeking to continue after the holidays. But for now, he is trying to focus his congregation on the festivities.
Several Christmas trees have been placed in the All Souls sanctuary. Trees in the church garden have been decorated with lights for the first time. And on the Sunday before Christmas, a brass quartet will accompany members of the congregation singing carols on the church steps.
``There's a deep seriousness about the congregation, but one can be serious without being solemn,'' Church said.