The Rev. Maria B. Sanzo told the congregation filling St. Mary's By the Sea on Sunday morning that they must follow the Holy Spirit on a day like Sept. 11th and beyond.
"God knows what she's doing," said Sanzo, assistant rector at the Episcopal church on Bay Avenue in Point Beach, making many of her congregants laugh.
Sanzo encouraged the parishioners to find strength and guidance in the Holy Spirit and quoted an excerpt from a prayer that says, "May the Holy Spirit direct and rule our hearts.
"That's a be-careful-what you-ask-for kind of prayer," she said, getting another laugh, "because we're asking the Holy Spirit to direct us into places that in our right mind we would never go."
Sanzo said that after Sept. 11th, "many of us had hearts filled with hate and mistrust."
"But then we had a renewed sense of loyalty and patriotism to this country and suddenly our families grew closer together," she said. "In the blink of an eye, we were abundantly aware of what was at stake."
Sanzo paid tribute to the victims of Sept. 11th, on the 10th annivesary of the terrorist attacks, and their families and close friends who have had to push forward without them.
She also paid tribute to members of local emergency response units and representatives from the armed services who were honored during the service.
"Day after day, they go to work so the world can be a better place," Sanzo said.
The Rev. C. John Thompson-Quartey, church rector, who is known in the church community as "Father John," had representatives from police, fire and military services in Point Beach stand with him on the altar as spiritual and patriotic songs were sung.
He presented each representative with a prayer card and Sept. 11th medal. He hung each medal, with a red, white and blue ribbon, around the necks of each representative.
Point Beach Police Chief Kevin O'Hara was representing the police department. Point Beach Fire Chief Mark Drew and Fire Department Lt. and Vice President Michael Ryan represented the volunteer fire department.
Stephen Howell, Army Specialist stationed with 716 Quartermaster Company at Caven Point Reserve Center, Jersey City, represented the Army.
Bret Gordon, a retired Navy Captain who had served as Commanding Officer of the Lakehurst Naval Base, represented the Navy.
He and his wife, Beth, also an armed services veteran, live in Point Beach and are St. Mary's parishioners.
Representing the Coast Guard were Nick Gera, petty officer, second class, and Richard Baynor, chief petty officer. Both serve in the Manasquan station in Point Beach.
Lt. Colonel Kas Dyson, a member of the Air Force Reserves and Point Beach resident, represented the Air Force.
David Brown, a parishioner, was honored as a representative of the Marines.
After the presentations, Thomson-Quartey asked all military veterans and local "volunteer firefighters and medics" to come stand on the altar as a group, as everyone clapped.
Howell, whose mother Nancy Howell has been a church parishioner since 1953, lives with his wife, Meagan Howell, on New Jersey Avenue.
After the service, Howell said he had been deployed to Iraq on July 25, 2009, the day after his wedding, and came home on July 20, 2010. The two never had a honeymoon.
"But we spent a lot of time together on our boat during the weekends this summer," said Meaghan Howell. "Last summer he was away, so we didn't get to enjoy the summer together."
"We had a great summer," Stephen Howell said.
He may again be deployed to Iraq or sent for the first time to Afghanistan.
"It all depends on the needs of the Army," he said.
When asked how she feels about her young husband possibly being sent into war again, Meaghan Howell said, "I get a little uneasy sometimes, but it's part of the job."
Stephen Howell said he was deeply appreciative of being honored at the service.
"It's very humbling," he said. "It's very nice to know that someone back here cares that you're over there."
Dyson, the Air Force Reserves member, said at a reception later that her close friend, LeRoy Homer Jr., a New Jersey resident, died on Sept. 11th. He was one of the pilots flying the United Airlines plane that flew out of Newark Airport, was hijacked by terrorists and crashed in Pennsylvania.
"He was one of the best guys you'd ever want to meet," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes. "He was a mellow guy, a great guy. I flew with him in the military, he was in my squadron."
He left behind his wife, Cheryl, and an 11-month-old daughter.
Dyson, whose sons are Steven, 14, and Jim, 11, is an American Airlines pilot. She said numerous security and safety measures put in place after Sept. 11th has made commercial air travel safer.
During the service, Thomson-Quartey said, "Ten years ago, our nation was struck with a devastating and senseless violence, and this loss was etched in our minds and our hearts forever.
"We gather this morning to remember the lives that were lost on that fateful day, and to stand in solidarity with those who grieve the loss of a loved one," Thomson-Quartey said.
"But as Christians, we believe that it is God who provides for our safety and security, and so we anchor our hope in God and God alone," he continued. "We demonstrate our hope for a better future by thanking the men and women of our armed and protective services who have provided us with safety and security in the past ten years.
"Today, we honor them and say 'thank you' for their service to this great nation," he said.
Sanzo asked a young girl from the congregation to light four candles, one for each of the three places where people died on Sept. 11 and another candle "for those who are still living and suffer because of the events of that day," she said.
During the sermon, Sanzo also said she will become rector at Trinity Church in Matawan on Oct. 2.
"I'm deeply honored to be called to this new position, but extremely sad to be leaving St. Mary's," she said.