Emily Smith lighting candles for two young parishioners on Palm Sunday, 2023

Meet the Ministry: Emily Smith, Assistant Head Sacristan

Our community at Trinity includes our vibrant parish of more than 1,600 members — and more than 200 employees working to support our worship services, programming, and ministry around New York City and the world.

In this series, we’re introducing you to some of the faces you may see on Sundays and at services and programs throughout the week, whether they’re at the pulpit or the altar or behind the scenes. You’ll get to know what their day to day looks like, what brought them to Trinity, and how to get in touch — and get involved — with the work they’re doing inside and outside of the church.

Trinity’s sacristans play an essential role in every worship service. The newest member of the team is Emily Smith (she/her), who has served as Assistant Head Sacristan since autumn of 2022. In this issue, learn about how Emily and her colleagues work with parishioners, her journey from college chapel sacristan to Trinity sacristan, and what inspires her in her work.

Hi, Emily! Tell us a little about your role.

I am part of the Liturgy team, and my title is Assistant Head Sacristan. What do I actually do? Well, I’ve always thought that a sacristan has one of the best jobs in a church. I get to work with people during the most holy parts of their spiritual or religious life — from baptism to burial. While most of my days are spent focusing on the daily rituals of worship (morning prayer, noonday Eucharist, evening prayer, Sunday services), I also get to be present for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Some days I’m in the church working with our clergy and facilities teams to coordinate logistics and prepare for and execute liturgy; other days I’m at my desk working on putting materials together for our liturgies and other digital projects.

How does your work fit into the life of the congregation?

A key thing congregation members should know about the sacristans is that it is our job to support our clergy, including acting as a liaison between the congregation and the clergy. So the sacristans and the congregation have a very close relationship. We are the first point of contact for our subdeacons, thurifers, acolytes, lectors, ushers, greeters, flower designers, and candle painters. We work between parishioners, clergy, and facilities staff as a kind of glue for worship and liturgy, making sure all the moving parts of the church are working well and that we are creating a space for people to feel welcome to enter, rest, and pray.

Emily Smith and parishioners at the Great Vigil of Easter

Can you tell us about your path to Trinity? What drew you to working in a spiritual community?

When I was growing up and in college, I always found a sense of community through church. As a kid, in youth group and going to camp, church was a place to see friends and to have fun. In college, I knew I’d need to find that same sense of community, and so the chapel on my college campus is where I found it. I joined the chapel’s Sacristy Staff, a team of eight students that took care of the weekly operations and logistics of daily services, and that team really prepared me for the work I’m doing now. A church community seems to be the common thread of my life; I suppose it’s not super surprising that I’m working in this setting. It’s just always felt right for me to be connected with a church.

Before coming to Trinity, I was the Sacristan at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colorado. Last summer, a couple of our parishioners were getting married, and I had my hand in all the details of their special day. The presiding priest, Trinity’s Vicar, Michael Bird, was visiting the cathedral to marry the couple and, well, the rest is history!

I never imagined that I would be a sacristan and doing this work, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is always present — and if I stay open to her whisper (sometimes she gives a loud shout), I’ll end up in a place where I can bloom and serve both God and my neighbor.

How can members of the congregation get in touch with you?

I am in the church on Sundays and different days throughout the week. The best way to get in touch with me or to set up a time to meet is by email: ESmith@trinitywallstreet.org.

Emily Smith with young parishioners on Easter

What’s the last book that kept you up way too late, album you listened to all the way through, or meal you can’t forget?

An unforgettable meal…there are so many to count, but one that stands out right now is Christmas dinner in 2020. Traveling home to be with family for the holidays is difficult when you work for a church, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to never spend a holiday alone. I have made a tradition over the past few years of sharing a table with coworkers’ families.

Anyways, Christmas dinner, 2020. The whole experience was simply magical — candlelight filled the dining room and kitchen, a fire was burning in the fireplace, garlands and Christmas decorations were up, the smell of a real tree and an oven full of savory dishes, jazz music playing in the background. Calm and simply elegant. The food was amazing, and the host made the most incredible caramel bread pudding for dessert. As we sat down at the dinner table, we popped party crackers and found a small gift and a crown made of bright colored tissue paper. Tradition said we were to sit at this elegant dinner table in our best Christmas dress with a silly paper crown on our heads. We shared stories from the year, took turns reading parts of the Christmas story, and pulled gifts out of the “lucky tub.” I don’t remember exactly what we talked about or what we ate (except the caramel bread pudding, that’s unforgettable) but I do remember how their hospitality made me feel — and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

What’s your favorite quote, lyric, verse, poem, etc.? Share some words to live by.  

Anything Morgan Harper Nichols creates. One of my favorites is “Grief, a poem.” I think the images that are paired with this poem are incredibly calming and validating of our human experience of grief — an experience I’m not sure some people acknowledge as often as we should.

What’s saving your life right now?

Random acts of kindness or a stranger’s spontaneous joy over something insurmountable. The other day I was waiting for a train, and across the platform, on the other side of the tracks, was a dancer playing loud music and tapping to the rhythm on a wooden board under his feet. I looked over, kind of annoyed because of how loud it all seemed, and I saw a small child crouched down on my side of the platform to peer under a beam to the other side of the tracks to watch the dancer’s feet. The child stood up and started dancing too and the child’s mom joined in. I looked across at the dancer and his smile could not have been bigger. I took out my headphones and soaked in their joy before the squeal of the next train pulled into the station.

Emily Smith at the Great Vigil of Easter 2023