This past Sunday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. “Transfiguration” is defined by Oxford Languages as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” Rev. Nancy preached, in part, about the compartmentalized “boxes” of our former selves, how these images impact us in the present, and the need to put them aside to live more fully in the present and into the future. (If you missed her sermon, I would encourage you to listen to it here.) With transfiguration in mind, and as we move from summer into the fall, I want to update our beloved Trinity community regarding the Vestry’s efforts on your behalf, including those challenging issues over which we pray and seek God’s guidance, as well as the joys of abundance for which we thank God.
This past week, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece entitled, “Why Gen Xers Aren’t Going Back to Church.” This article, of course, can be added to a plethora of other articles put out recently by The Atlantic, The New York Times, and other journals and newspapers decrying the loss of church attendance in the U.S. and Europe over the past several decades. According to Gallup, “church attendance levels have been declining for decades across generations, with less than half of U.S. adults belonging to houses of worship in 2020, compared with 70% in 1999 (WSJ, Aug. 3, 2023). Yet in this same article, a professor from Eastern Mennonite University noted that “congregants…will stay and engage if they find meaning and connection.”
We, too, are seeing this play out in our own community, with Trinity experiencing a net loss of 94 pledging units since 2013, and with 50% of our current church income coming from 15 pledging units with an average age of 74. Read that sentence again and let it sink in. This is, of course, disconcerting. (This research was provided by your Treasurer who is also part of the Financial Sustainability Passion Group.) It is with these and other realities that your Vestry makes its prayerful, thoughtful, and deliberate decisions. We want to be a church where people are welcomed and continue to find meaning and connection. Knowing what we know based on current research and facts, do we engage in a proposed new eight to 10-year, $4 million to $6 million “Building for Ministry, Phase II” capital campaign to include a new pipe organ, or do we meet the needs of the moment, to use just one example, with a new assistant rector who can provide pastoral care for the sick, the lonely, our shut-ins, and those dying and their grieving families? Or maybe we install handicap door openers and improve the sanctuary lighting and public address system so that all folks of varying abilities can enter our building without a struggle, read their Sunday bulletin, and hear our beautiful music, liturgy, and sermons. All of these are decisions which have distinct impacts on our church community in the present and well into the future.
Over the past few years, there has been renewed discussion about what to do with Trinity’s 60-year-old Aeolian-Skinner electro-pneumatic pipe organ, a topic which has been discussed by various organ committees since 1998—yes, that’s correct, for the past 25 years! As the incoming senior warden in February of this year, I promised both Rev. Nancy and the then-co chairs of the organ committee that this vestry would not delay making a decision about the organ. After 25 years of loving and dedicated work, a definitive response was owed both the hard-working members of the organ committee (an extension of the vestry and not an autonomous governing body) and Trinity’s congregants.
As such, over the past six months, numerous presentations and meetings (too numerous to list out here) were held to determine the right path forward, including an hour-long final report/presentation made to the Vestry on April 18 by select members of the then-organ committee; a recommendation was made for a multi-year, multi-million dollar “Building for Ministry, Phase II” capital campaign for a new pipe organ with additional substantial renovations to our sanctuary. (For clarity, “Building for Ministry, Phase I” was the capital campaign that funded the new church offices and parish hall completed in 2015.) On May 16, after much discussion, the Vestry prayerfully and thoughtfully voted against the requests to contact pipe organ builders or to begin conversations about another capital campaign at this time. Members of the Vestry expressed a deep love for the church, for our music program, and for the current arrangement that provides visibility of our choirs, young and old, as worship leaders. The Vestry also affirmed the suggestions that some improvements to the Main Church are much needed and timely (lighting, repair of pews, sound improvements) and will be pursued outside of the larger proposed renovation project that would have included moving a new organ to a built-out balcony.
Additional follow-up meetings ensued, as would be expected, and, on May 30, all members of the committee were thanked for their years of service and invited to participate in the newly formed Passion Groups. The Passion Groups are a way for everyone to participate in our life together in ways that bring them joy and contribute to the goals of making meaning and connection at Trinity through worship, outreach, fellowship, caring ministries, and more.
Since the Vestry decision in May to not pursue the recommendations of the organ committee, and based on the extensive input of two organ experts (Jonathan Ambrosino and Bill Czelusniak, both of whom are very familiar with Trinity’s current organ), the Vestry has authorized over $30,000 in organ repairs to rectify unaddressed deficits and maintenance for our organ. Indeed, with a full restoration of our current organ, both experts estimate that our organ would work as intended for another 50 to 70 years. Finally, for those who may have been considering financially sponsoring a new pipe organ in part, the Vestry and I appeal to you to prayerfully consider endowing Trinity’s pledge income instead.
Friends, we live in a time which calls for new thinking and creativity even while holding fast to the spiritual traditions and rituals of our Episcopal heritage. And, yet, for all the challenges we face, abundance, joy, and victories still abound right here at Trinity!
I want to end where I started, with the notion of transfiguration—a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. If we as a church are to engage and connect and grow and create meaning and maintain meaningful relationships in the twenty-first century with all of its challenges, we will need to pay attention to the present; to be spiritually, emotionally and financially present with our eyes open to God’s abundant love poured out for us and to the needs of the world. One of our wise female church elders recently asked, “What are the problems of this world for which the church has the answers?” It was not posed as a rhetorical question; rather, it was a question posed in all seriousness in search of tangible, serious, and loving responses. Together as congregants, vestry members, lay leaders, lay ministers and priests, we can and must grapple with the loving, faith-based answers to this question. This is our moment of transfiguration! Thanks be to God.
As your senior warden, I am available to talk with you about our life together at Trinity at any time. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, to Rev. Nancy, or to any of your elected Vestry members as we live into our ministries in this new season.