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2020 Annual Meeting - Senior Warden Remarks
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Good morning, friends!
2019 was an extraordinary year for Trinity Church, by almost any measure.
It was a year that effectively began a month after last year’s annual meeting when – to speak figuratively for a moment – a 1973 Oldsmobile sports coupe, known as the Princess, hopped the curb, rumbled across Copley Square to the West Porch steps and disgorged a young-ish priest with an unexpected beard, with energy and delight in his step, bearing and voice, offering a resounding and inspiring appeal to all of us to hop in and buckle up for a beautiful ride.
And so, you and I – just about all of us -- did just that!
Most with smiles of expectation, hope and curiosity, some with question marks in their eyes – Where are we going? Who’s driving? Who gets to sit up front? – we clambered aboard, each in his or her own time and tempo.
A new age was underway in Copley Square, as Morgan Allen, the 21st rector in our 287 years, settled in with us and we with him.
With Morgan, of course, came his dear family – Missy, Michael and Ginna. We owe a lot to them all, more than we can know, for sharing with us so much of Morgan’s time and energy and love in the whirlwind of his first months with us, and for braving the chill northeast, a region not always wider in welcome as we church folk say, and that clings, among other idiosyncrasies, to the unaccountable conviction that Harvard-Yale – or to aim considerably higher – Williams-Amherst is actual college football!
So let’s join as we did that day and offer thanks to all of Team Allen for gracing this house with their faith, kindness, patience, and company!
Meanwhile, back aboard the Princess…
Looking back over the year now past, there is much to rejoice in, to savor again in memory. I don’t by any means claim to offer a complete roster here, but these are some of the images that arose in my mind and belong on our collective highlight reel:
- In June, more than 140 of us gathered at the Barbara C. Harris Camp for a weekend of fellowship and fun. We had a boatload of both, enjoyed conversations that bridged generations and backgrounds, and got an early window on our rector’s inner camp counselor hard at play.
- Later that month, responding to the crisis on our border, Trinity hosted a Saturday morning service of prayer for the father and daughter who died trying to cross the Rio Grande. The image of the two, face down in the shallows, remains inescapable and unbearable. The service was somber and spare, heartbreaking and so necessary, a fulfillment of one of the callings of this congregation, to convene in an hour of need.
- In early August this sanctuary was filled with pride, happiness, and a sense of necessary work well done, as the Trinity Education for Excellence program held its annual graduation ceremony and celebrated its 20th year at Trinity. That’s two decades of helping the youth of this city rise as young scholars, as people who give and earn respect, as nascent leaders of the sort this world most needs. I have to say that, for me, the sight and sound of the TEEPers making our space their own for the summer is an annual reminder that the work of TEEP and the other TBC programs is the gospel proclaimed, as clearly as it is at any service.
- Also, in August our choirs and choristers made their way to England, where their glorious uplifted voices made God even more manifest in Wells and Salisbury Cathedrals. How proud we were of the gift they shared, and how glad we were to have them safely and happily back home with us.
- In September came the formal installation of Morgan as our rector, with the Very Rev. Cynthia Kittredge as our inspiring preacher and Bishop Gates presiding, and intoning, the ancient formality of this four word command: “Greet your new rector.” In the marginal notes of the service bulletin that day was this bit of added help, amusingly superfluous in retrospect: “The congregation expresses its approval. Applause is appropriate.” Appropriate! How perfectly Episcopal! Needless to say we complied, long and loud and grateful.
- In October, we joined for a parish breakfast that preceded the most remarkably meaningful “All Souls” liturgy of my 26 years at Trinity. It was the pilot, carefully planned by Morgan and the staff, of the new morning pattern we have been growing into together this year. Many, many eggs were cracked and bacon rashers devoured as 270 plates were filled that day. The commons were abuzz. The summary judgment on the day was let’s do this again. And so we have.
- And in November, I recall especially two crowded forums at which Geoff Smith, our treasurer, Olie Thorp, assistant treasurer, and Steve Hendrickson, our investment committee chair, briefed us on the brass tacks of our parish finances. In the level of detail and in transparency, it was the advent of something that felt new – a deepened sense of shared ownership, and a shared language to talk about, our church home.
These are just a few of the memories we added in 2019 to our treasury. But one also has to say that the word “beautiful” doesn’t describe every leg of the ride. There have been some difficult choices made, and fiscal realities faced. There have also been, amidst some very welcome hellos (which I will turn to in a moment), some very hard goodbyes. Quite a few of them in fact, as a time of transition became one of multiple transitions. We will miss all who retired or moved on to new destinations, but I want to focus today on a few of these great souls.
In March, Rainey Dankel retired and returned home to Virginia – a long-planned blessing in her life which she kindly deferred as long as the Episcopal Church allows, and then some, for the benefit of this parish. Rainey brought such wisdom and idealism, vim and humility to our midst. She deeply believed in and defended our bond with Trinity Boston Connects, as it works to change the odds for underprivileged city youth and faces down the racism baked into the bones of our national story, the ineradicable mud on our shoes, as Morgan recently named it. Rainey was a force for justice, and a friend to so many. How we miss her!
June brought two more leave-takings, one long planned for, one a surprise.
The parish learned in May that Rita Powell, at the time our associate for liturgy and music, would be leaving Trinity to become the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University. That this departure served the natural order of things – a person of youthful spirit and extraordinary talent moving on from a big parish like ours to serve the larger church in a new role – did little to soften the sense of loss. Rita was a game-changer here, a restless innovator, pulpit provocateur, and an unfailing source of energy, ideas, friendship, and infectious laughter. Harvard has hired well!
Also in May, came word that Sarah Wilcox, our senior parish administrator, was retiring after 18 years of stellar work on our behalf. Stalwart is a word that comes quickly to mind when reflecting on Sarah and her many contributions; also unfailing competence, devoted stewardship, and astonishing attention to detail. Sarah knew this place so well, and loved it so well. One added aspect of Sarah’s tenure is that it had two distinct chapters, coinciding roughly with the eras we know as first Samuel and second. Sharing in that distinction is a special figure in our life whose departure comes out of this sequence, indeed it happened this year not last, but whose gifts it seems wrong not to note today: I refer of course to Pat Hurley, our wonderful communications director who recently retired, determined to get on with a long-gestated plan to relocate with her husband – this seems so strange a choice to those of us who live for the arctic blast coming off the Hancock – to St. Croix. Pat, whom I will always picture with a broad smile and a camera around her neck, has been an ubiquitous and essential presence, in person and in words. Thank you!
And finally, 2019 was the year we had to say goodbye to Louise Burnham Packard, the founding executive director of Trinity Boston Connects, a job she took on some years after coming to Trinity in 2001 to help lead our first big capital campaign, the one that renovated this matchless space and added the commons and forum below. At the foundation and in every role she took on, Louise was a whirlwind of innovation, ambition and faith, and the essential bridge between this parish and its charitable subsidiary. It seemed impossible to imagine replacing her. Fortunately, the organization she built was sturdy enough to pass on to a new inspiring leader – Charmane Higgins, whom we heard from just a few minutes ago. Charmane is off to a fantastic start and has very high ambitions for the year ahead. So thank you Louise, and welcome Charmane!
Balancing all these leave-takings to some degree were two most welcome arrivals to the clergy team – Paige Fisher and Karen Coleman, part-time associates who both began work here in September, reinforcements just in time for a staff, depleted in numbers but not commitment, launching the new program year. Paige and Karen – our thanks to you!
And as we are offering thanks, we mustn’t skip past those who didn’t go or come but simply stuck by us in a challenging season. Bill Rich, after giving this parish so much in his stint as interim rector, returned to his role as our vicar. This is such a rare and wonderful thing, as students of church politics know, an interim returning to his prior roost for any length of time. We owe some gratitude in that to Morgan and to Bishop Gates, but much more, of course, to Bill. Thank you, dear Vicar, – your presence is our blessing!
And Patrick Ward, promoted by Morgan to be our senior associate for program, has been an invaluable contributor this year in just about every way imaginable. We are so fortunate that we get the ongoing benefit of Patrick’s heart and mind, his endearing way, generosity, and wit. And is it my imagination, or has every one of his sermons this year been an event?! Thank you Patrick!
I foreshadowed earlier in these remarks that 2019 was very much a year of fiscal realities squarely faced. Already today you have heard from Geoff Smith speaking with warmth of a balanced budget built on these three things: increased revenue, meaningful spending cuts even as we substantially increased our capital commitment to this historic building – and a lower endowment draw. For a church treasurer that cluster of data points describes Nirvana. And you have heard from Lonsdale Koester and Tim Kelly, our remarkable stewardship co-chairs, about the main source of the revenue growth our budget will make such good use of. That would be you! Thanks to the generosity of so many Trinity Church in the city of Boston is one of the surpassingly few large Episcopal parishes whose pledge revenue is headed up. Truly, this is something to feel proud of. And build on.
That, in quick summary, is the very good news. More important than dwelling on it is to resolve to do it again this year.
My summary of all this vital work is that we have, at length, set our house on its true financial foundation. Or perhaps the better metaphor for a church built on the soupy soil of the Back Bay, on our true pilings, living firmly within our means. This is a great tribute to our remarkable financial team – a shout out here, especially to our Director of Finance, Joan Mansfield Roberts -- and it is by no means the fruit of one year’s extraordinary work, but of several, involving many, many hands and hearts devoted to the well-being of this parish and its future. The legacy of all that righteous focus is that today we know exactly where we are, fiscally, and what we can afford, which has the happy side effect of making where we dream of going together easier to imagine and to see.
Our budget, even within these limits, suffices to pay for just about everything we need and most cherish about this place: Our worship and music, our mission and service, our devotion to preserving forever this House of God on Copley Square. Our budget does not suffice, however, to pay for some things we have long been accustomed to, like a stewardship director, a parish administrator, a communications director, a fourth full time priest. With Morgan setting his substantial shoulder to the wheel, our staff has leaned into their work with renewed fidelity and force, and we have managed well, even within these daunting constraints – but this cannot be our long-term picture. We can’t continue to ask so much of our professional and parish leaders – many but not many enough – who make this place go.
We know the truth of that, all of us. We simply must continue to raise our game. God, after all, has not called Trinity Church to bat .285.
Who said that?
I want to close my remarks today by reflecting briefly on what it has been like to serve with Morgan. Since he arrived last spring – and in full force with his family in early summer – we have experienced something new to us in the way he speaks and thinks, pastors and prays, laughs and feels. Watching him from very close up as wardens do, he has lapped my very considerable expectations, even as our circumstances have presented him and us with a host of challenges in quick and continuing succession – some that we did not warn him of but might have and some that none of us could have anticipated.
He said he would get to know us by name and story. Oh my, has he thrown himself into that.
He has modeled collaborative leadership, even as he has, thank goodness, also modeled an executive willingness to act.
He saw our looming financial predicament with the clarity of a newcomer taking pains to get to know us – and acted on it, decisively, with exemplary team work, and to remarkable effect.
And he has brought renewed glory, prophetic wisdom, moral rigor and good humor, to our pulpit, with 25 sermons over 40-some weeks. Collectively, in retrospect, they trace a clear arc, all of them, in one way or another, about learning how to live and thrive as Christians in this secular season, when sustaining a life of faith is to self-identify, profoundly and necessarily, as outliers. Just four Sundays in – and who will forget it? – Morgan stood before the broad step with a Bible under his arm and not a note in hand, and challenged us to be Knights of Faith. The choice is ours. Will we?
It has been my privilege, as your senior warden, to offer what aid and counsel I can to Morgan as he leads us, challenges us and inspires us. But of course it needs more than officers, vestry and staff to support him in this most-demanding ministry at this critical moment in the life of our parish, our Episcopal Church, our city, and this mad world.
It needs all of us -- all of us – to come together, bringing our hopes, our anxieties, our dreams and our stories along, as he beckoned us to do -- those written already and the great new story, too big for any one book to hold, that we are writing together.