The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson
By Danny Stern

A Note from Father Phil

Dear members of the Trinity community:

As this extraordinarily challenging year draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we have all lived through, and to give thanks for the remarkable ways that you have served one another and our community.   

Over the past year, we have watched as illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 rose, then fell, then rose again. We have lost loved ones. We have seen our country experience and respond to racial violence and injustice, and we have lived through a deeply divisive election. Our daily lives have been disrupted for fully 10 months of this year, as parents try to teach children from home, people around the country suffer job losses, and we see unprecedented growth in food insecurity. Some of us live alone and have been isolated from our loved ones for much too long. We have sat in front of screens for hours of meetings and activities that both helped us stay connected and reminded us of how much we miss genuine, in-person interaction.

Back in March, the onset of the pandemic led to the heart-rending decision to close our church buildings and offices. Except for our uptown cemetery, which has remained open as an essential service to New York City, and the Trinity Retreat Center, which was able to open to guests for a brief period this summer, we have remained closed since then, and we don’t anticipate reopening until March 2021, at the earliest. Church Divinity School of the Pacific, our seminary in Berkeley, CA, which also suffered through wildfires this year, had to shift to fully remote learning for its students. All this is on some level unbelievable yet real, and as difficult as these decisions have been, I am heartened by your support for our desire to keep our congregation, staff, students, and visitors safe. I want to thank our IT staff for keeping us virtually connected since we have closed our doors, creating the capacity for us to worship, work, study, and gather remotely.

It has been a difficult, trying year. But as Christians, we believe that the darkness cannot overcome the light, and I have seen so much light this year — laughter and love, joy even; service to one another, and care for the most vulnerable.

Liturgy is the heart of our church, and our Liturgy and Music teams worked so hard this year to continue to offer beautiful worship services for our congregation and the thousands of people who have been joining us online. I want to thank our dedicated clergy, sacristans, and musicians who made this all possible; our Facilities, Security, and Communications teams, whose support was essential as well, and our IT team, who managed and supported the change to remote work, which enabled everything else. I hope you will join us for our celebration of Christmas, which will bring beauty, joy, and, I hope, comfort in this strange year.

Our congregation and staff also have created new and innovative ways to stay together, nurture one another, and worship God. In addition to joining us on our website and Facebook Live for Sunday worship at 11:15am and our daily weekday services at noon, we have gathered for morning and evening prayer, joined watch parties, and hosted online activities. We used tablets and texts to ensure that everyone was reminded of services and able to join. And good old-fashioned phone calls provided lifelines for conversation and connection.

Our congregation also lived into its new approach to stewardship this year, allocating parish gifts not only to our own church community, but to organizations that directly serve our neighbors. Despite this year’s many restrictions, congregational giving supported the outreach, service, and ministry of Metropolitan College of New York, Midtown South Community Council, and Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project.

Beyond the virtual walls of our church, we witnessed the pain and suffering in our city, particularly among the most vulnerable. In response to the severe rise in food insecurity, we launched new feeding programs. Our Compassion Meals and Compassion Markets — comprising Brown Bag lunches at Trinity Church, a weekly Compassion Market at St. Paul’s Chapel, and 24 additional distribution points at partner locations — served nearly 162,000 people across New York City this year. Thank you to the Trinity Commons team and the volunteers who served our community through these crucial, life-giving programs. And to assist churches across our city, which faced enormous challenges of their own, our Vestry provided a $3 million grant to the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Our Grants & Mission Investing team also worked quickly and diligently to provide funding to support our partners in their important work during a time of crisis. Through GMI, Trinity awarded 180 grants totaling $36.5 million this year, including $29.5 million to organizations in New York City through our Racial Justice and Housing & Homelessness initiatives; and $7 million in grants through our Mission Real Estate Development and Leadership Development initiatives, many of which supported international partners in the Church. The amount of grants directed to aid those in New York City was more than triple the amount awarded in 2019, and focused on three areas: supporting organizations that actively work with some of the city’s most vulnerable residents; supporting nonprofits that are on the front lines through emergency grants and loans to sustain their operations; and stepping up our own advocacy through projects such as Faith Communities for Just Reentry. In addition to thanking our GMI team, I want to express my gratitude to our Vestry for their support of these programs. You can read more about our 2020 grants to New York City organizations here.

This was to be the year that we opened Trinity Commons — five floors of classrooms, meeting spaces, a full-size gym and more, built to serve our congregation and our downtown neighborhood — to the public. When that became impossible, we instead began offering online programming to serve those communities, providing opportunities for education, mental health support, and other activities to bring people together. We’re looking forward to the day when we can open our doors and invite our neighbors in to share this beautiful space. Our community service also included a Get Out the Vote campaign that engaged volunteers in the tri-state area to write postcards and make phone calls to ensure people were registered to vote and knew how they could vote early. We also tapped into our 24 Compassion Market partner sites to expand the scope of that work, sharing critical information on voter registration.  

These are just some of the many ways that the Trinity community used its gifts to respond to this strange year. At our last All Staff meeting of the year, Meredith Jenkins, our Chief Investment Officer (who also has served as our Interim Chief Operating Officer this year), spoke about stewardship. She said, “As I look back on the year, I am so impressed by the stewardship that all of us at Trinity showed this year. We accepted what happened and figured out how to move forward. We took what was given to us and found ways to make the situation better — for the congregation, for our community, for each other… It was a year of stewardship in action for all of us.”

As we look ahead to the new year, there is hope on the horizon. But the needs of the most vulnerable will not disappear; the injustices in our country will not automatically be righted; and the mental health implications of what we have all lived through this year are only beginning to surface. Even with the arrival of effective vaccines, it will be some time before COVID-19 is under control and we can gather together in number once again.

So, we have plenty of work ahead — work that I believe is Trinity’s to do. We have been blessed with resources — financial, yes, but also resources of heart and talent and determination — that we will continue to put to use to worship in community, serve those in need, and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. We will need continued patience with the circumstances of our world and with one another, and grace to listen for what God is calling us to do.

I want to offer my deepest gratitude to everyone at Trinity — our congregation, staff, Vestry, and friends near and far — for all you have done this year to be a light in the darkness. I am humbled by your commitment to our church, to one another, to our city, and to the world. In these last days of Advent, as we wait expectantly for the Christ Child to come again into our troubled world, I wish you and your loved ones peace, hope, and love.



The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson
Priest-in-charge and Vicar