Trinity Church, Boston, MA (Exterior)

Trinity Church, Copley Plaza, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity Church
Location: Copley Plaza, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 March 2015, 9:00am

The building

Planning was begun in 1870 for a new building for Trinity parish, which plans had to be accelerated when the Great Fire of Boston destroyed the old building in 1872. Even so, disagreement among the vestry delayed the beginning of construction until 1873. Work was completed in 1876, with the dedication occurring in 1877 after the interior furnishings were finished. Trinity Church is the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, whose libraries, railroad stations, commercial buildings and private homes throughout the Northeast and Midwest are regarded as classics of the Romanesque style. The American Institute of Architects has declared Trinity Church to be one of the ten most significant buildings in the United States, the only church to be so honored. Dwarfed by surrounding commercial buildings, the church nevertheless holds a commanding presence. The exterior is heavy and muscular, with thick stone walls. The interior looks a little Greek Orthodox with its stunning murals and mosaics. The stained glass, replacing original clear glass windows, is by such universally acclaimed artists as Edward Burne-Jones and John La Farge.

The church

Trinity is known as a Broad Church parish. They sponsor a number of fellowship activities. Among these are Short Fiction on Faith, which (quoting from their website) "reads (primarily) short stories whose plots and characters raise issues of faith," and Simple Sunday Supper – soup and sandwiches after the evening service each Sunday. The Trinity Explorers group is (again quoting from their website) "a collection of parishioners that meet weekly to socialize with other Christians." There are two Sunday morning eucharists plus morning prayer, and a Sunday evening eucharist plus compline. Choral evensong and the eucharist are offered at various times during the week.

The neighborhood

Copley Square was historically marked by a number of important educational and cultural institutions, and still boasts some outstanding architectural works, including the Boston Public Library and the Hancock Tower. More recently Copley Square gained notoriety as the site of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

The cast

The presider was the Revd Samuel T. Lloyd III, rector. Preaching was the Revd Rita Powell, associate rector for congregational development.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

The very large main nave was three-quarters full, including a large contingent of students from Indiana in the back five rows of pews, in town for the St Patrick's Day parade.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. Welcomers were numerous and greeted me cordially (but not warmly, I would say) as I was handed the order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very. Besides being cushioned, the pew backs were at a slope that made it even better.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a little hustle and bustle as parishioners greeted one another, but not over the top.
What was nice was that the choir were still practicing their anthem, which even in practice was good.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

(V) Bless the Lord, who forgives our sins. (R) His mercy endures forever.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

You could follow the service from the printed handout, but references were made to the Prayer Book 1979. Hymns came from the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?

Flute was used for the prelude,
the organ for all else. It is a masterful instrument that they are justly proud of, an amalgam of various instruments by various builders over the years, culminating in an ongoing project of cleaning, rebuilding and augmentation by Foley-Baker Inc. Organ Technicians of Tolland, Connecticut.

Did anything distract you?

If anything, it was the great beauty of the place. I'll bet that if you go a few times you settle down, but on your first visit there is so much to take in visually that you can lose track of where you are in the service.

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

Rather middle of the road but done well and concisely done, which is very important these days. The music was great and just enough. It aided the worship and didn't take over from it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

8 – The associate rector spoke with good clear diction, solid inflections and varying tones. She used notes but was not glued to them. Whilst she used, I think, three references by simply weaving them into the sermon, it was not done by picking up the book and waving it around – I hate that!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Flour and water have been used to make bread for over five thousand years. The story goes that once a careless woman left her dough sitting for a time before putting it in the oven, and went off to do something else. When she came back, she was astonished to see that some unknown ingredient had caused the mixture to rise. And so was born leavened bread. She didn't know what the unknown ingredient was – most likely it was yeast in the air. Our spiritual lives are like that: we are the flour and water, and the Holy Spirit is our yeast. We are more likely (she said) to "get our dough going" by coming to church, as there's more "yeast" in the air here than in our kitchens or in a bakery. (This remark gave rise to laughter in the congregation.) Our dough needs nourishment to keep it going, and we'll get more of that in church too!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was very good – the choir was great! I think there were nearly 40 members split equally between choir boys and adults. Not since Westminster Abbey have I heard such a choir! I noticed whilst going up for communion (a highly complex affair – hats off to the sidespersons for making it work) that the younger choir boys were joking and messing around very quietly "under the table" (as if that meant that we wouldn't see them!). I was reminded of my own adventures as a choir boy many years ago. For me it showed they were alive and into the whole thing. I couldn't help catching the eye of one little tyke and giving him a wink – he smirked back.

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

The pulpit, whilst quite impressive, has a very unfortunate feature. Because the canopy is so large with limited lighting, it casts a shadow over the preacher. Couple this with a reflection from the preacher's notes that illuminated her face from underneath. It gave her a rather ghoulish look, I'm afraid, like something from Halloween. Mind you, this is not, erm, a reflection on her preaching – she was great regardless.

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

Not too much. I listened to the postlude, after which I smiled and said hello to some folks but just got polite nods back.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was a real buzz at coffee time. There is obviously a great feeling of belonging among the parishioners, but I didn't see that this extended to an effort to spot lone singles and chat with them.

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

8 – I would want to see how they react to your face if they see it more than once or twice. Would they engage you more or still stay in their cliques?

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

Yes, it did. The time flew by, and I left with that great feeling of why I go to church. If they could deal with welcoming strangers better, it would be a really top spot!

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

The sermon, no question. I've got a feeling that is going to be used again at some time and in some place.

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