Trinity Cathedral Portland
Like many of the great Episcopal cathedrals, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, is blessed with a dynamic and visionary Dean, the Very Reverend Nathan LeRud. In describing his leadership, Canon for Cathedral Life, the Rev. Canon Julia McCray Goldsmith explains that “…his kerygma, his proclamation, and the quality of his preaching stand at the top of the mountain of what we do well. It is the most visible and obvious manifestation of what we value. The whole rest of it wouldn’t work nearly as well if we didn’t reliably know that our dean is going to preach compelling, relevant Good News all the time.”
In her praise of the Dean there is an interesting and easy-to-overlook phrase – “the whole rest of it.” In fact, it is the whole rest of it that truly defines Trinity’s uniqueness.
Rather than relying solely on the Dean for inspiration, Trinity members’ Spirt-driven initiatives are deeply embedded in the life of the community. Trinity is a place in which people are encouraged, empowered, mentored, formed, and coached to act on their passions and their sense of calling. As such, clergy and staff are constantly astonished by the capacity and the talents of Trinity’s members; and the staff sees their role as one of channeling this beautiful, sacred and redemptive energy. There is permission-giving to follow the promptings of the heart, along with guidance and encouragement. Some of the initiatives have staying power and some don’t, but those that do then become congregational community builders.
So how does Trinity nurture this model of engagement? One aspect of their congregational life is a clearly defined set of core practices, which not only inform their shared identity but provide the program map around which ministry and discipleship initiatives are organized.
Core Practice: Deep Beauty
Trinity considers art and worship together as a practice of Deep Beauty, manifesting holiness in visual arts, music, and in liturgical practices.
In addition to a flourishing Visual Arts program, Trinity Music is the result of sustained time, effort and growth. The genesis of the current program occurred over 35 years ago under the direction of Canon Dr. John Strege, Director of Cathedral Music. Canon Strege invested enormous energy in building the music endowment that now allows Trinity to be a real player in the Portland arts scene. This includes an ongoing collaboration with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, one of the best period orchestras in the country, and a series of high-profile concerts featuring renowned organists playing Trinity’s Rosales Organ, Opus 11. Current Canon for Cathedral Music, Bruce Neswick recently launched the Trinity Choir School as a more concerted effort to build a children’s music ministry. There are now 15 children enrolled in the program, which utilizes the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) training schema, and enrolls younger children in Trinitots and Chorister programs. Both youth and adult music offerings serve as a draw to attract people from outside the parish, providing an excellent entry point for non-Episcopalian music lovers into the Trinity community
Life at Trinity Portland
Core Practice: Holy Compassion
Trinity has an immense passion for outreach, stemming from Holy Compassion which generates concern for the most vulnerable members of society. This core practice is manifest in the Listening Post initiative, an opportunity during the weekly hot meal where guests can have one-on-one conversations with designated listeners. Many guests are experiencing homelessness and, without a rooted community, are deprived of meaningful person-to-person engagement. The Listening Post provides this engagement. Listeners act not just from a sense of Holy Compassion, but from the idea that people themselves can be a source of Deep Beauty.
Another similar listening-based initiative is Listen to Learn, in which volunteers engage in one-on-one conversations with members of Portland’s burgeoning immigrant and refugee communities. The volunteers often discover that they are transformed by their listening partners, many of whom are not Christian, and these partners are embraced as beloved members of the Trinity community. Now, Arwen Myers, the Director of Marketing & Communications, hears multiple languages being spoken in the hallways of Trinity every day. Parishioners are interacting with people from all over the world and being invited into unfamiliar ways of living, all as a result of Holy Compassion.
Core Practice: Uncommon Warmth
The core practice of Uncommon Warmth focuses inward, encompassing pastoral care and ministries of welcome and incorporation. Like many large congregations, Trinity faces an ongoing challenging in making the onramp to the community smooth for newcomers because the sheer size of the crowd can be intimidating. As such, there is the regular large coffee hour and a more intimate newcomer coffee hour. Each has a valued constituency. This summer, as part of the formation hour after the main worship, parishioners are sharing stories of how they got to Trinity and why they stayed. Through these stories – which have been in turn delightful, surprising, startling, and charming – newcomers still navigating a large and opaque community begin to have a sense that there is a roadmap to belonging.
Core Practice: Intellectual Curiosity
Trinity has always offered essentially university-level teaching of scripture and tradition, as well as a plethora of formal learning opportunities related to the core practice of Intellectual Curiosity. But a very high priority in all formation offerings is to avoid passive learning and instead create fully engaged people of faith who feel that they have as much to give as teachers as they might receive as learners. There a deep hunger for discipleship and discipling each other by sharing leadership responsibility. A consistent opportunity for formational leadership is serving on the Arts Commission. Someone might approach the commission with a passion or an idea, and then, with the proper guidance, encouragement, and boundaries, dig in deep enough to develop a core of other committed people. A new ministry emerges. After those kinds of formational leadership experiences, people then ask, “What can I do next? I know how to make a difference in a place like Trinity.”
How Can Trinity be a Model for Other Churches
Both Julia and Arwen suggest that Trinity can be a model to other churches, not so much in any particular ministry or principle, but in the general concept that a church community must play to its own strengths.
They explain that for a long time Trinity was viewed as a wealthy over-there-on-the-hill isolated congregation. The transformation occurred because cathedral leadership invested in those programs they’d always done well, such as music and the arts, and outreach, and by embracing the city’s culture. They tried to acknowledge their place in the city as well as determine what they had the capacity to do well. Portland is largely secular, so their offerings had to provide softer entry points for people who might be new to Christianity. Using social media as a means of digital evangelism, Trinity makes sure that their concert series, movie nights, and other offerings that might nourish the whole community are publicized broadly and in the right channels. Digital engagement makes their boundaries porous, so when people take an initial inquiring step, it allows Trinity to respond in a personal way. Trinity aspires to be agile and responsive to community needs; for example, they recently offered a special service on United Nations World Refugee Day. Within hours, they had conceived the idea, planned the vigil service, and disseminated the invitation broadly through social media.
To put it in church language, Trinity is intentional about exegeting the city and interpreting the city’s needs in a way that can be expressed through sacred traditions. They have a wonderful sense of back and forth at the threshold of the church and beyond into the city.
The work of discernment is perpetually ongoing. Trinity leadership, clergy, staff, vestry, and parishioners constantly seek to better know themselves as a community, asking, “What are our core practices that we know we are good at? How do we do them better? How do we tell the story more, and with more passion and conviction?”
As Julia explains, “That’s holy work, that’s discernment work, that’s the Spirit moving, that’s how is God calling us. We consider how to bravely communicate that call, because God’s call to us is good news to the world.”
If part of your church’s core practices encompass a passion for music, you won’t want to miss the special learning track for church musicians being offered at this year’s CEEP Conference in Boston!