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Enriching Sundays: Details and Rationale

December 2, 2019

Valuing all our congregations and the whole of our parish, this schedule seeks to make the most of our time together on Sundays and to provide efficiencies that allow us to achieve sustainable excellence in all we do. Our programming surrounding the 10 a.m. combined worship will vary seasonally, and, in what follows, I outline the details and rationale of this new schedule’s several elements. This longer explication concludes with a look ahead at our exciting winter and spring plans.


9 a.m. Community Hour

Our Parish Profile named that “So much of Christian life happens in community; we find God in relationships with one another. Trinity parishioners have expressed a deep desire to feel that they are known at the church, that there is a place for them in the Trinity community. Creating community means fostering connections. It is clear that we want to deepen our connections with the clergy and with our fellow parishioners.” The Profile also admitted the challenges we face in realizing these hopes: “The downside to being a large congregation is that it can take a long time to become known. There is a sense that we could do a better job of inviting people in, helping them find their place, and making them feel welcome.”

As the Profile suggests, building community takes time and requires intentional investment by our parish and the individuals of our congregation. Given the bustle of our contemporary lives, Sundays provide the best starting point for the joyful, holy labor of knowing and loving our fellow parishioners. The combined-worship schedule makes room for us to do so at a maximally convenient time and without competition from a Forum on the other side of the Commons walls.

To discern how we might convene in Christian community, Jesus’ witness points us to the value of cooking for one another and eating together. As the authoring community of Luke’s Gospel describes life in the earliest Church, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number” (Acts 2:46-47). Our pilot of a Parish Breakfast foreshadowed how this mode of community-building could feel, and the positive reflections on that morning affirmed the “warm,” intergenerational, and “more casual” connections the event made possible. Many particularly noted the relief of a “soft-start,” when one could arrive anytime between 9 and 10 and not feel harried or late.

Serving a meal and sharing treats prepared by members and ministries of the congregation will provide a welcoming place for everyone who enters our doors, strengthening treasured friendships and nurturing new ones. A compelling attraction for a variety of households, our Community Hour will provide a setting to nurture and increase our hospitableness as a congregation, one allowing us to practice engaging our faith experience in a spirit of encounter, rather than evaluation.

While parishioners overwhelmingly expressed enthusiasm for their experience of the All Souls pilot, some wondered whether the preparation and participation energies would be achievable on an “every-week basis.” Valuing this concern, we will launch this new schedule with a once-monthly Parish Breakfast and continue in that pattern through the spring. During the other Sundays of each month, we will share in a hearty “Community Hour” over sweet and savory treats and delicious coffee. These Community Hours will include special recognitions of parishioner birthdays and anniversaries, as well as opportunities for both casual and more shepherded conversations.

Of our current opportunities for building community, some Profile voices sharpened the point of our siloing and cliquishness: “Oddly enough, coffee hours, where I feel the most included, are also the times I feel the most excluded. There is a critical mass of people I’m comfortable with, but there is also a certain amount of coldness.” The feedback we received this fall echoed this ambivalence, identifying the table arrangement of our Parish Breakfast as both a positive (it “felt like a family meal”) and a negative (people “tended to sit with those they already know”). As we conceive and host the Community Hour and Parish Breakfasts, we will need to create welcoming spaces for the newcomer and those parishioners who self-identify on the margins of the community, strategizing with the same focus and sense of purpose that we would prepare for a Forum or service ministry, and making room for constructive reflection on our efforts.

Finally, though some feedback questioned the stewardship of deploying significant human and financial resources to feed those with full cupboards at home, we believe the stock of one’s pantry is not the only measure of whether one “needs” to break bread in community. Indeed, creating a loving, purposed, community space is not an amenity, but a necessity of the Christian life, and, from our Community Hour and Parish Breakfast experiences, I trust God will call us at Trinity Church into more challenging, ever-deepening, farther-reaching ministries of welcome, hospitality, and service.


10 a.m. Worship

Our Parish Profile named, “Worship is the beating heart of our life at Trinity,” and, “participating in worship gives us the truest sense of belonging. We feel connected to God and to those who sit with us in the pews, who greet us as we come into the church, who raise their voices with us powerfully in prayer and song in the hymns.” The experience of our combined, mid-morning worship on All Souls occasioned resonant reactions, with parishioner comments focusing on the “vibrancy” and “energy” of a teeming worship space, as well as the “unity” and “synergy” of convening a larger cohort of the parish as “one body,” as when we worship “together” during summer months.

Sociological studies support the felt experience of our congregation. Research by the Alban Institute at Duke University and Church-growth wisdom suggests that worship spaces more than 80% full or at less than 20% capacity can send unwelcoming signals to newcomers: of the congested spaces, the newcomer feels, “There is no room for me here;” and, of the sparse spaces, “This congregation must be struggling.”

Since 1999, attendance at our 9 a.m. service has been remarkably consistent. Excluding Easter Sundays, our 9 a.m. ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) for the last 20 liturgical years has been 384: in 1999-2000, the ASA was 388; and in 2018-2019 (the liturgical year just ended), the ASA was 365. However, during this same time period, our 11:15 a.m. service has experienced significant and steady decline, from a peak of 711 from 1999-2000, to a low of 234 during the last year.

Using the number of seats sold at a Candlelight Carols service – 1,132 – to measure what the Alban Institute calls a worship space’s “comfortable capacity,” last year’s 11:15 a.m. ASA hits the perilous, “sparse space” threshold (20.6%). Further, at only 32.2% of capacity, even our larger 9 service does not effectively witness our parish’s vitality.

Thanks be to God and the fidelity of those generations before us, we inherit not only a stunningly beautiful worship home, but a very large one that can comfortably fit our active congregation. We maximize the benefits of this inheritance by combining our mid-morning services, enjoying time together in fuller community, rather than in two smaller cohorts. Further, this fuller nave will more effectively welcome newcomers to our worship experience, a critical step toward growing our parish.

The combined worship will also allow our whole parish to benefit from the intergenerational excellence of our choirs. At 10, the chancel will brim with voices from younger than 8- to more than 80-years-old. Our music leadership have welcomed the schedule change and are eager to partner with choir members and Chorister families to support their richest ministry experience, even as their ministries support the richest worship experience for our congregation.

While as the Holy Eucharist has become the normative mode of Sunday worship across The Episcopal Church, Trinity has continued as “a Morning Prayer parish.” The most common negative feedback we received about the prospect of combining our mid-morning worship worried on behalf of others or expressed personal grief about an expected loss of Morning Prayer. Seeking to honor those for whom this liturgical form has endured across generations of Trinity Church, we will pray Morning Prayer on the last Sunday of every month, including during summer. On Eucharist Sundays, we will celebrate the Eucharist, and on Morning Prayer Sundays, we will pray the Prayer Book office, rather than creating a combined liturgy that incorporates elements of each, but at the risk of diminishing both.


11:15 a.m. Formation

Our Parish Profile announced clearly the importance of continuing Trinity Church’s tradition of outstanding Christian education, naming “that participation in learning and Christian formation has been one of the most meaningful aspects of parishioners’ faith journeys.” Our parish “enthusiastically attends lectures and classes, which feed our minds, expand our souls, and deepen our sense of community,” and “many were attracted to Trinity because of the educational offerings and they remain high on our list of reasons we choose to be part of this parish.”

Importantly, the parish’s commitment to quality education includes our coincidental formation ministries for children and youth. According to the Profile, we value “the Church School program for preschoolers through fifth graders, which includes the innovative Godly Play curriculum that helps the younger children explore their faith through story, wonder, and play.” While “acknowledging the strengths and attraction of the Choristers and Acolytes programs,” the Profile also hoped we would continue to strengthen “structured Christian education for middle and high schoolers.”

Contrary to these hopes, our between-services formation timing limits the depth and quality of all our education offerings. Truncating when the 9 a.m. liturgy runs long, rushing to attend the 11:15 a.m, and competing with the hospitality of a coincidental Coffee Hour, we ask Forum leaders, Church School teachers, and youth mentors to teach fewer participants, with distracted attentions, in less time. Moreover, these programs face many interruptions that stall the momentum and week-to-week continuity we could otherwise build with compelling series, for that hour must also accommodate receptions, festival events, and community engagements.

The positive feedback received this fall intuited these challenges of our current schedule, affirming an “un-rushed” formation period that did not compete with Coffee Hour “on the other side of the door,” and expressing gratitude that all liturgical leaders and Choir members could participate in classes following worship. One Church School teacher observed of All Souls, “I was worried about how much energy my [little ones] would have, but I felt like they clearly had been very well fed at breakfast and they were in great shape – no one seemed ready for a nap!”

In the Profile, the parish makes clear our desire for “more opportunities for Christian formation and easier access to them.” Though negative feedback received this fall expressed concern about a later education hour diminishing participation and upsetting households’ established Sunday routines, Sunday morning delivers “easiest access” to formation, while still leaving time for afternoon avocations.


8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Trinity Church values its early-morning and evening liturgies, and the Parish Profile voiced the precious experiences enjoyed by those worshipping at the bookends of our Sundays: “I love the Sunday evening Eucharist when the entire community gathers around the altar. The physical closeness – squeezing in – suggests an intimacy, and the broadness of folks participating suggest to me a lot of space to be present.” Moreover, that moment of “opening” – when we unbolt the tall West Doors, greeting Copley Square and those friends already gathered on our West Porch – singularly sets the tone of welcome and worship we share the rest of our Sunday together.

Both congregations have expressed the hope to increase their connections to the larger community, and “The 6 p.m. congregation is especially vocal about this. They want more attention from the rector, more avenues through which they can know about and be included in parish life.” Upon my arrival last spring, I made personally connecting with these congregations a priority. To further support these connections, this fall we called two assisting priests: one primarily supporting the morning services, and one primarily supporting the evening service.

I believe we build upon the “synergy” of our worship when all our Sunday liturgies share as much “common prayer” as possible; when all our congregations have an opportunity to engage with all our clergy; and when all our parish hears the same sermon preached at all our services. Therefore, my fellow preachers and I have customarily preached all day on the Sundays when we preach, and we have supplemented altar leadership to include at least two priests present every Sunday, at both bookend services. Further, in recognition that most of our worship innovations in recent years have focused on the evening liturgy, we have deliberately steadied our 6 p.m. service with a more consistent, Eucharistic form. With our changed schedule, all these enhancements will continue more sustainably.

The modest nudge of our early-morning worship from 7:45 to 8 a.m. intends to connect that congregation to our mid-morning programming, especially the 9 a.m. Community Hour. During our pilot of this schedule, many from our early service did stay for the Parish Breakfast, prompting glad stories of friends’ reunions over bacon and eggs.

This fall, we have convened at least monthly for fellowship and formation after the 6 p.m. service. These light meals and Forum-style events have carried morning programming to the evening congregation, a pattern we will continue and expand this spring.


Looking Ahead

Our first Parish Breakfast of the new year will be January 5, when we will incorporate long-standing Epiphany Brunch traditions into the affair. The final Parish Breakfast of our 2019-2020 Program Year will be June 7 – Trinity Sunday – a special occasion in our calendar that we are preparing to enrich with new celebrations.

Recognizing the distinctive rhythms of summer (in 2020, June 14 – September 6), we will flip our “wrap-around” schedule: while the worship times will all remain the same, Forums will move to 9 a.m, and a casual fellowship over coffee and lemonade will follow at 11:15 a.m. In addition to supporting the sustainability of our Community Hour and Parish Breakfast provisioning during the Program Year, this summer swap intends to honor those who prefer to fast before worship, and those Forum attendees who prefer an early start to their Sunday-afternoon plans.

In worship, some feedback expressed concern about our limiting the “liturgical options” of the parish with the combined worship, specifically grieving the loss of our Church’s Rite I (“Thee” and “Thou”) language. Valuing the diversity of our congregation’s preferences, during Advent and Lent this year we will worship in Rite I at all Sunday services, making appropriate adjustments for inclusive language. While the theology of the Church has righteously moved and changed since Thomas Cranmer’s inspiration and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s creation, the words and rhythms of Rite I remain important touchstones for many in our community, and, in the course of the year, we will seek to honor those faithful devotions.

In the coming seasons, our Morning Prayer Sundays will include the last Sunday after Epiphany, when we tell the story of the Transfiguration, as well as the feast of Pentecost, on May 31. In the classic beauty of the morning office, I look forward to celebrating these important days with our parish family.

Of the Formation our Profile hoped we would undertake together, I look forward to engaging with you in rich, creative, Christian education, grappling seriously with our meaning-making as contemporary Christians. Toward that glad end, I will lead our first Sunday series of the new year: Tunnel of Love: The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen.

Beginning on January 5, these six consecutive Forums will offer extended theological reflection on scripture and our American condition, all in companion with Springsteen’s remarkable life and work. The series will draw upon several primary texts: The Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and Springsteen’s musical catalogue, autobiography, and recent Broadway show (now available on Netflix). Our study will stretch from the light-hearted to the serious: from the blinding light of youth; to the darkness of systemic racism; to our faith’s promised land of hope and dreams. For those ready to begin their winter-break reading, listening, and viewing, the working syllabus for Tunnel of Love may be found here.

During the last two Sundays of Epiphany (February 16 and 23), I will then lead a short series entitled: Rats! The Plague, The Passion, and These Days. We will consider Albert Camus’ 1948 classic, The Plague, against the backdrop of The Transfiguration and Jesus’ approaching march to Calvary, asking, How many rats must be collected before we move from examination to emergency? How can the disciples’ behavior on the mountaintop and during the Passion inform our discernment about taking action in our own time and place?

Our Profile also named the importance of “the lectures Trinity frequently hosts on a variety of topics focused on the intersection of faith, society, art, and architecture,” and the 11:15 Formation hour will allow us to marry some of these events to Sunday mornings, maximizing potential attendance. We will explore this efficiency with this year’s Price Lectures, three Sunday sessions in March that will consider that under-examined and even “suspect” dimension of Christian existence: joy. Our guests for these lectures include Christian Wiman, poet and professor of Religion and Literature at the Yale Divinity School; Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity; and Brenda Cassellius, the new Superintendent of Boston Public Schools.

We recognize that for those accustomed to worship with Communion every Sunday, once-monthly Morning Prayer will require an adjustment, just as those who have regularly attended the 11:15 service will be pressed to adjust to more frequent celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. And while we hope that 10 a.m. marks “the Goldilocks hour – not too early, not too late,” as one clever parishioner shared in their feedback, we also understand that this shift will require everyone’s adjustment (including the parking garage, who is working with us to ensure discounted rates will cover our expanded Sunday programming).

Trinity Church, I am enthusiastic about the promise of these changes to cohere, energize, and grow our parish. More than anything, though, I am eager to share in community with you: to spend “much time together in the temple;” to break bread and share a meal “with glad and generous hearts;” and to learn, dream, and share “in the goodwill of all the people” in Greater Boston. By engaging this grand adventure of being church with a gracious and hopeful spirit, I trust that “day by day” the Lord will “add to [our] number.”


I close with a prayer for our parish:

Almighty and everlasting God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift, hear our prayer for our parish family of Trinity Church. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Bring us joy and seed in us hope. Build our community and inspire our imaginations, as one and as many. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Related Stories:

Letter from the Wardens

Letter from the Rector: Enriching Sundays