Skip to Content

REMEMBERING 9/11 | Former Wall Street Journal editor Melanie Kirkpatrick escaped 9/11 to witness New Yorkers learning to rebuild physically and spiritually

Walking from Wall Street to Chinatown to Central Park, people were praying—publicly—all around her.

By Print Preview

When terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center towers 10 years ago, Melanie Kirkpatrick watched firsthand as the attacks brought New Yorkers to their knees.

Kirkpatrick, editorial page deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal, wore high heels and a navy blue suit that morning when her subway train halted one station short of its destination. A perplexed driver announced that something was clogging the World Trade Center stop and that commuters must exit at Chambers Street, a stop several blocks north of their destination.

Kirkpatrick climbed the steps out of the station and headed toward the Journal's office in one of the World Financial Center buildings, a few hundred yards from the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. She saw heads around her turned skyward, and heard one onlooker say, "It can't be right, but I think I saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center." Another said, "May God have mercy on their souls."…

Walking from Wall Street to Chinatown to Central Park, people were praying—publicly—all around her. "As I walked, I began to notice the open doors of the houses of worship that I passed," she says. "A few had hand-lettered signs saying they were open for prayer."

"At times the quiet, orderly exodus seemed more like a prayer vigil," she wrote in a Journal column three days later, describing her walk uptown and the "countless people with heads bowed and lips moving."

She noticed ministers opening doors of houses of worship, praying and counseling the hurting. She saw clergymen rushing to hospitals, and some to lower Manhattan itself. She later learned that the same phenomenon of people turning toward prayer and faith was happening nationwide. That night when President George W. Bush quoted Psalm 23 in his speech to the nation, Kirkpatrick noted that the line "I will fear no evil" became particularly meaningful to her. When she arrived—in a state of shock—at her own apartment uptown, she says she kneeled to pray and felt a spiritual awakening from all she had witnessed.

"To those who don't know this city, New York may often seem a modern Sodom and Gomorrah," she wrote. "But to those of us who do, it is a shining City on a Hill, a city of magnificent churches, synagogues, and, increasingly, mosques and shrines and temples."

The theme she saw in New York was "that religion and people's reliance on God in a time of crisis was very evident." It became a time when strangers cared for strangers, residents wanted to express resilience rather than retreat, and the city displayed its emotional and spiritual side much more publicly than in the past. "I think New Yorkers had a sense of how we behaved would represent to the world American strength," she says. "And American compassion, too."

Many believe that 9/11 brought a transformation in the city that's contributed—along with expanded law enforcement—to a significant drop in crime. Major felony offenses in the city have dropped from over 162,000 in 2001 to 105,000 in 2010—a 35 percent decline.

Alongside that decline has been growth in the number of evangelical houses of worship in the city. The majority of evangelical churches in Manhattan today began in 1988 or after, but an acceleration in church growth was most noticeable after 9/11, according to the online magazine A Journey Through NYC Religions. Almost 40 percent of evangelical churches in Manhattan started since 2000. In September and October 2009 one new evangelical church opened its doors for worship every Sunday.

Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Kirkpatrick's life also has changed in a decade. She retired from the Journal in 2009 after nearly 30 years at the newspaper. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, serves as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and is completing a book about 20,000 Christians in North Korea who have escaped their oppressive regime through an underground railroad through China and other countries in Asia….

Her own path mirrors what she says is a more religious New York City than it was 10 years ago: "When there is a crisis in a family—or the urban family of New York City—people turn to their religion in a way that they might not" normally. Kirkpatrick attends a church in Manhattan's Upper East Side, Park Avenue Methodist, as well as a Methodist church in Barkhamsted, Conn….

—with reporting by Elbert Chu in New York

For complete story see  World magazine

Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features