Church: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1500 State Street
Service Attended: Sunday, 10 a.m.
Reverends: Mark Asman (Rector), Eva Cavaleri (Associate Rector)
Congregation Size: 1,100
Special Offerings: Centering Prayer meditation group, Wed. 5:15 p.m., childcare and Sacred Arts Summer Camp; community service ministries; Healing Eucharist, Fri., 10 a.m., with several weekly Holy Eucharists; silent interfaith vigil for peace, Thu. 5 p.m., State and Micheltorena Streets; Trinity Backstage concert series; book group; volunteer choir
Contact: 965-7419, trinitysb.org
Bright sunlight filtered through the intricate stained glass windows as the downtown Trinity Episcopal Church slowly filled nearly to capacity with people of all ages, most of whom wore name tags bearing the words, “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors.” The accuracy of these words was immediately clear from the diversity of the congregation and numerous extended hands, but it became even more apparent during the service when congregants were asked to greet and offer peace to their neighbors. This ritual – confined to a compulsory handshake at many services I’ve attended – went on for a solid ten minutes, with parishioners freely moving throughout the pews to introduce themselves to new faces and chat with old friends.
The service was structured similarly to a traditional Catholic service, including a clergy procession, Bible readings, the singing of hymns led by a cantor, a recitation of the Confession of Sin and Absolution and the Lord’s Prayer, and the taking of Holy Communion. As one of the congregants put it, “We get all the fun rituals, but we have women in leadership roles and we are accepting of gay people.” Trinity also practices open communion, welcoming people on any stage of their “journey of faith” to partake of the blood and body of Christ.
After singing hymns with an ebullient lightness that made even a tone deaf gal like myself feel comfortable raising my voice, guest preacher Rev. Dr. Ron David (who is also a practicing pediatrician) gave a witty and moving sermon that began with comparing the “beloved and bedeviled” city of Jerusalem to the Georgia of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind.” (“I hope you didn’t expect me to sing that,” he joked.) Connecting Jerusalem’s “wild oscillations” between promise and judgment to life in all cities, Rev. Dr. David compared modern city life to riding an elevator: “People grow closer together physically as we grow farther apart emotionally.” He said that the way to combat this movement away from community (and toward judgment) was to “travel lightly,” spreading the peace of the Lord.
The reverend urged parishioners to spread this message through what he called “kingdom of God experiences,” using words only when necessary. He described a recent experience of riding on a crowded subway car and watching as an infant imitated the facial expressions of the two men sitting across from her. At the same time, the men noticed that the baby’s frown was a mirror image of their own glum expressions, and they both began to smile at the baby, who in turn cooed and giggled. “Both a frown and a smile are equally contagious,” Rev. Dr. David said. “But only a smile contains the truth of the Gospel.” Such experiences of connection, Rev. Dr. David argued, awaken compassionate concern for others and encourage us to seek justice, which, he said, “is a social form of love.”
In tune with this conception of what it means to spread love, the parishioners were led in offering “Prayers of the People,” including a prayer for “the will to make peace, especially in the Middle East, Iraq, and Darfur.”
After the service was a lively coffee hour on the newly completed outdoor labyrinth. In addition to such treats as cookies, hummus, and cheese, there was a table of philosophical, religious, and political books to borrow and an “abundance table,” which allowed parishioners to give and receive homegrown fruits, vegetables, and flowers. All in all, the worship experience at Trinity was geared toward creating a sense of community, teaching congregants that they needn’t move through the world as if on a crowded but silent elevator.