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2021 Annual Meeting - Senior Warden Remarks
Good morning dear Trinity family and friends!
Welcome to what has to be one of the strangest annual meetings in our almost 300 years as a parish.
I say "one of the strangest" in a bid for a measure of humility about our necessary diaspora and the sometimes terrifying demands of this pandemic year. It is so easy to imagine that our hard times are THE hard times.
But it is helpful to recall that Trinity has hung together through 10 wars, through a great fire that destroyed our 18th century parish home, through the centuries when there was no effective treatment for any infectious disease including the catastrophic flu of 1918, through the Great Recession and the much Greater Depression, through the era of slavery and the much longer and still painfully incomplete era of atonement for its crimes -- human, moral, and economic -- and through the drum beat of lesser calamities that syncopate history even if they barely stick in memory now.
We have been through a lot, that is to say, and we're still here -- for God, for each other, for Boston and the world. Thank you Lord!
When I reflected on what I might say today, after such an uncommon and unsettling year, my mind wandered first to a memory from what we now call the “Before Time.” It was 51 weeks ago, Sunday March 8, our last together on Copley Square. We didn’t know how many would come, given the news. And I recall being delighted to see so many gathered and with such happy energy. The crisis ahead seemed at that moment just a few confusing and distant data points, faint on the horizon. And, like many, I didn't yet see. Or, more accurately and candidly, I wasn’t ready to.
And then there was nothing else to see, and no looking away. There was so much to be done, and done all at once.
When Boston's Great Fire of 1872 destroyed the old Trinity Church on Summer Street, Phillips Brooks and his young friends had to rebuild from scratch. And what did that visionary company make out of unthinkable calamity? The glorious tabernacle on Copley Square that we so miss now.
Not for want of a building but because we cannot safely gather in it, we have had to rebuild the church from scratch again in this mad year, and to do so with tools entirely new to us. That, of course, first meant devising, adapting and perfecting the digital frame for worship. And then, so much more important, populating it with our hearts and prayers and voices raised in song in all our private spaces. The true work of staying together has been done inside each of us, as it always is.
It has been such an inspiration for me, as your senior warden, to see our center hold -- and expand. And to witness up close how it has been done.
For at this historic pass, we were gifted again with a visionary company of leaders to rebuild our church home, our church at home. The church staff has been so attentive and creative and bold and tireless -- even when, of course, they were understandably bone-tired. The worship stalwarts from the most senior reader at our virtual lectern to the irrepressible chorister at the top of the stairs in her Hollywood Square, have been nothing short of magnificent. And our many volunteers--those who make all our key ministries and committees go -- have stepped up, time and again, to say that most galvanizing word: Yes!
One way to take the measure of this chapter in our history is to review the string of remarkable innovations and creations that have tethered us, and re-animated old bonds. The choir built one voice at a time -- by means I don't claim to understand but which thankfully its ingenious curator, Colin Lynch does -- has grown from just the staff singers to something vast and congregation encompassing. The new tradition of weeknight compline, of such value to so many. Camp Trinity, which somehow actually felt like camp to the many who joined in. The hither-and-yon pony express that had more than 50 of us bringing communion elements -- and, yes, stewardship appeals -- to more than 800 households last fall. The advent reflections, Christmas peek, Candlelight Carols and on and on it goes. Amazing!
Another way to tell this story is through the numbers. Olie has already captured the heart of this surprisingly heartening news in his report, but for my purposes, let's pause over just three figures that tell: $600,000, 0, 5.7 percent
--$600,000 represents, in rounded form, the body blow to our budget that came with the closing of church and with it the loss of tourist, gift shop and concert revenue.
--0 represents the number of staffers whom we were forced to let go because of those cuts. Yes, incredibly, the zeal and focus of our budget managers enabled us to honor our place as a church, and thus no ordinary employer, and to carry our entire payroll through these tumultuous months. We did this, even as we decided to forgo the possibility of a federal PPP grant, knowing well that if we had applied we would have raised the odds that others in greater need might be crowded out. It was a hard call but the right one.
-- 5.7 percent represents our endowment draw -- higher than our long-term hope but down a smidge our 2020 forecast. Let’s focus on that proud fact: Even as we contended with the unprecedented fiscal stresses of the present, we honored our obligation to the generous souls who preceded us, and to the generations that will follow us. This is no small thing.
And along with these three singular figures is one more still taking shape: Despite the loss of nearly a quarter million dollars in pledges from some who died in this year past, we may yet reach last year’s generationally strong stewardship total. This is entirely a tribute to you. Thank you! And don't stop!
These facts count as markers for who we are, and where we have been. But they will not and cannot mark the path to where we have to go. For, as our rector has stressed in sermons and other settings, we won't emerge from this pandemic crucible right back where we were before we entered it. In more ways that we can know now, we will be a different Trinity Church, with new gifts, new potential, and a new sense of our self. Also with challenges to meet that we can't now foresee.
Change will be inevitable, even if it will also inevitably make us uncomfortable at times. There are sure to be new faces on the altar, in the office, and in the pews. We must expand our staff to meet the demands of the post-COVID normal. And some familiar and treasured friends may launch for new frontiers and new challenges. This is all normal and necessary and healthy. And let us pray this evolution is accompanied by another sign of health -- new neighbors joining us in church, among them some of the pandemic compatriots who found us on-line and now it will be our joy to know.
Let me pause here to underscore two things coming our way in the name of change that we will want to think through and live into.
First, we will come to some resolution as a community about what reparations to offer for our own privileged position in a city and nation whose prosperity was grounded from the start in the cruelties of the slave trade. We will be guided in this by a task force studying the question, by the work over the years of our Anti-Racism Team, and by our parish leadership. There is no simple answer today; there will never be a simple answer. But this much we can say: To be meaningful, whatever we do must move our congregation, from its deep-set pilings up, to take this next big step in the direction of justice.
Second, 2021 will be the year we operationalize the recommendations of the Leadership Development Task Force, briefly summarized earlier in this meeting. That means we will welcome and support new parish leaders, in part by making room for them in every ministry. To name two examples among many, the Task Force urged Vestry consideration of a by-law change to set shorter terms for officers and Vestry. And that all ministry leaders covenant to term limits.
This will enable a more regular changing of the guard and speed the reality of greater diversity in every sense at the leadership level. It is an exciting, in fact an historic prospect.
So consider this a heads up. More when we meet again.
There is so much to be done between now and then. Fortunately, we can rely on one thing as this chapter unfolds -- Morgan will be guiding us.
I know he will not be happy that I am doing so, but in concluding these remarks I need to turn our attention squarely to our remarkable leader, whom it has been my honor, as warden, to advise and support. Our 21st Rector lapped my expectations in his rookie season, and he has lapped them again this year. As of today, he will have spent 10 of his first 19 months as rector ministering to us from the garret of his home or from the make-shift lectern in front of his bay window. It has worked amazingly well, but not one second of it has been easy.
No one saw this coming -- who could have? Yet God, I believe, has stirred remarkable synergy between Morgan’s leadership and our hopes and needs. He worked hard to sustain us and we the people of the parish responded with our own gifts. Trinity has not merely endured, we have thrived! And we are ready for whatever comes next.
There have been of course some times of remarkable pain and horror in this year, but we have somehow, as a community, kept our hearts pointed toward hope. From the prayer service after the murder of George Floyd to his remarkable sermon after the January 6 insurrection, Morgan has met these dark chapters, thoughtfully and powerfully, in actions and in words. His preaching this year, even by his own standards, has been exceptional. If there is a better week-in, week-out homilist in the American Episcopal Church, I would like to know who that is.
I know for a fact that there cannot be a more farsighted, meticulous, and effective parish manager out there. Or someone who has tried harder to get to know the many souls he leads, in order to lead them better.
With Morgan at the wheel, our journey has detoured for a stretch into some very strange territory, and onto byways marked on no map we could find. But the "beautiful ride" he promised on his first Sunday with us continues unabated and the horizon for Trinity Church is as high and promising and aglow in faith as it ever was.
Thank the Lord for that. And thank you all.
Mark S. Morrow