Trinity Church, Boston (Exterior)

Trinity Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity Church
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 March 2013, 9:00am

The building

Guidebooks devote pages to describing this imposing structure, so I'm sure I will fall short. Trinity Church was designed by 19th century American architect Henry Robson Richardson, inventor of the style known as Richardson Romanesque, characterized by rough stone, heavy arches, and massive towers. It is considered one of the most significant buildings in America. The granite and red sandstone structure actually sports a relatively low, wide tower. The interior is by American muralist and stained glass artisan John LaFarge, and features oxblood walls, gold trim, and dark wood, with a Byzantine feel (to my uneducated eye). One's gaze is drawn to the glowing (with gold bas-reliefs) chancel wall behind the simple altar. The stained glass windows are beautiful. LaFarge is said to have worked day and night without rest so that the interior would be ready for the church to be consecrated before Lent began.

The church

Trinity looks like a wealthy dowager church, but its vibe is definitely an urban family parish. I enjoyed the demographic range of ages and ethnicities. Their website describes the many ministries and outreaches supported by the parish. There were announcements made about an upcoming meeting on the congregation's response to gun violence and a planned children's mission trip to Africa.

The neighborhood

Boston's Back Bay district is considered to be one of the most architecturally significant neighborhoods in the United States. Elegant Victorian brownstone town houses sit in stately rows amid venerable institutions such as the Boston Public Library and modern skyscrapers and shopping venues. Trinity Church faces the Boston Public Library across Copley Square near the upscale shops on Newbury Street.

The cast

The Revd Samuel T. Lloyd III, priest in charge, was the celebrant. The Revd Rainey G. Dankel, associate rector for pastoral care and community life, was the preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher said "Good morning" as she gave me the service bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?

My pew was comfortable, with seat cushions that have seen better days but still do the job.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The 32-member all ages choir was practicing and the choir director was shouting out instructions, mingling with sounds of greeting from the church entrance. Those in the pews were quiet and prayerful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymnal 1982 and an eight-page bulletin printed for the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Only the chancel organ, a 49 rank instrument by the venerable Aeolian-Skinner company dating from 1960. It was cleaned and refurbished in 1990 and again in 2007.

Did anything distract you?

I suppose one of the dangers of worshipping in one of America's ten finest buildings is being distracted by the building itself. The interior is opulent and ornate, and the stained glass windows are beautiful. However, I don't think I succumbed to the danger. Maybe I really needed to be at church!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I'd call it warmly Episcopalian, responsive: hearty singing for the processional and recessional hymns, less hearty for the trisagion and chanted psalm.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – I was worried at first that the Revd Mrs Dankel would limit herself simply to retelling the gospel narrative. But as she went on, she widened her focus. She mentioned Archbishop Desmond Tutu's book No Future Without Forgiveness.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She spoke on Luke 15:11-32 (the parable of the prodigal son), and her message was reconciliation. This story is one of Jesus' masterpieces. It embodies the heart of the gospel, the good news of God's love. The relationship between God and man was broken by sin. But God, through Jesus, reached out to close that gap. The parable questions our notion of justice. Those who need no forgiveness don't understand God's grace. God's love for us is inexhaustible. God is throwing a party. Is something holding us back from joining it? Are we resentful that "those people" are invited?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

On my way to communion I passed between the choir stalls. I was closest to the young boys as they sang the motet, Palestrina's Sicut Cervus. Pretty nice.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

No snacks afterwards, only coffee. Qualifies as being at least in the outermost circle of hell, I suppose.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

No one spoke to me as I loitered, although several smiled as they walked past. I finally asked the celebrant, as he walked past after greeting worshippers after the service, how to get downstairs. He invited me to walk with him and was quite chatty.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Simply coffee in ceramics cups. But in a beautiful recently remodeled space, near a gift/bookstore.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – The parish's involvement with social justice issues is encouraging, as are the many activities and groups for all ages described on their website.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The pleasant contrast between the opulent setting and the simplicity of the service. Yea, Lent!

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