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A Message from the Rector

The Rev. Dr. R. Scott White


Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. From the bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, "We have this hope, an anchor of the soul." 


This Annual Meeting Address is unlike any I have given in the past and probably unlike any I will give in the future. In regular times, this address attempts to sum up what has happened since the last Annual Meeting and look forward to the coming year. This year, the review of the past is nearly complete as I've been giving on-going updates. As for the future, well, in the short term, who knows? In the long-term, we have hope. 

We held our last Annual Meeting on the third Sunday in November of 2019. At that time, none of us had any idea what was lying before us. Then, I spoke about the great work that had taken place at Trinity since November of 2018. We had celebrated with worship and a grand reception the most profound physical change at Trinity in over 50 years with the renovation of our Church Street Courtyard. That renovation came about as the culmination of the largest capital campaign in the history of Trinity Church. It saw the nearly complete renovation of our buildings' internal systems that range in age from 106 years to 50 years old. This campaign included our unique stained glass and organ, and the outer envelope of our parish. 


At last year's meeting, I noted our renewed relationship with the Church of the Advocate, including the appointment of the Rev. Dena Whalen as Vicar. Then, we were also well on our way to one of the most successful annual giving campaigns at Trinity with the largest number of participating households at nearly 375. The reports shared at that meeting included the great plans made by our staff and ministry leaders for the coming year, plans to draw us together in our life of faith, fellowship and outreach and mission. 2020 began with great enthusiasm and participation. We arranged a highly engaging Lenten adult formation program with our Faith in the 828 series that welcomed our local colleges' leaders to explore the intersection of education and faith in this modern world. 


Then, we slowly began to receive word of a new virus spreading around the world. Our entire life at Trinity became virtual in nearly one week, a new experience for us all. I can't begin to describe how difficult and strange this change was for me personally, but I also know for our staff and you. We moved from being the people of God as we are created for, physically together, to learning how to do the same virtually, online, like we are doing now. What a bizarre and emotional experience it was to walk out into an empty Trinity Church to lead the Holy Eucharist on that first Sunday; it pulled on every string in my body. 


At first, we hoped we were looking at 30 days before we could get back to normal. Then, the worst fears became apparent: Holy Week and Easter would need to be all virtual. Still, we mustered the strength to walk that journey and hoped that only another 30 days would do the trick. Yet, here we all are these six, almost seven months later, with still no clear timeline for a return to normal and now contemplating a COVID Christmas. In comparison, during the 1918 flu pandemic, Trinity was closed from November of 1918 to February of 1919. We have far exceeded that event. 


I could spend a lot of time reviewing even more details about last year, but we have shared so much already about what we have done and what we are doing to remain connected. I encourage you to take the opportunity to see the brief video offerings we have recently shared on the ways Trinity remains alive and vibrant in our worship, fellowship, outreach and mission. You must see these video offerings as they fully describe how our mission remains active and dynamic. You can see all of these at the Annual Meeting website. 


I want to close out by saying a word about the future, but let me first name some groups I want to thank publicly. 


First, I want to thank my colleagues at Trinity. Trinity's staff has been amazing through this time, and I can't imagine another group of people going through this with than our team. You know how difficult this has been and how easy it would have been to throw up your hands and say, "well, there's nothing for me to do." While each of us has had our moments, every member of Trinity's staff has stepped up to the plate to reimagine their ministry literally and then implement it. It has required patience, love and new learnings all in a short amount of time. And it's all been done with little complaint. And with a sense of interest in new learnings for the future. Children, youth, adult formation, fellowship, bible studies, small groups, online worship and communications. Our entire life together has been reimagined and re-deployed. I thank our staff, and when you see them, please add your thanks. 


Second, I want to thank Trinity's Vestry. When this whole thing began, we all agreed how important it would be for us to provide stable leadership, and if that were to happen, we would need to be together as a team. We immediately began a weekly check-in online, and we have continued and will continue this process for the time being. I want you to know that your Vestry isn't just a business group. We don't only review finance numbers and then say goodbye. We are a small group of Trinity Church. We pray for each other, pray for Trinity Church, study the Bible together, and seek God's guidance as we make decisions for the best of Trinity Church. I am so grateful for our Vestry. Not once during this time especially have I ever felt like I was alone in leading Trinity at this crucial time. 


Third, I want to thank you, the people of Trinity Church, as well as the many friends and newcomers who have joined us on this journey. You have remained loyal, faithful, engaged, and a great source of encouragement to me personally, to our staff, and each other. I feel your prayers and presence. Your encouragement and prayers lift me and carry me forward each day. Thank you for all you do for our witness, our ministry, and our mission. 


So, what about the future. Well, I don't know. I mean, much of it is obvious. I don't know when we will have the opportunity to return to our regular life together in person. You know the predictions just as much as me: a vaccine by the end of the year, hopefully; getting it out into the community taking as much as another six months or more, maybe by the end of summer 2021, removing most restrictions? Maybe. Until then, we are hoping to move to indoor opportunities beginning in November, starting with 25 people. We pray those numbers will gradually increase to 50 by 2021. We hope there will be a slow increase in that number, perhaps changing to a percentage of capacity. As a vaccine becomes more available, we pray even those percentages will grow. But we don't know anything for sure in terms of timetable. 


What I do know is this. We will continue to live the Gospel together at Trinity church faithfully, whether it's virtual opportunities or limited in-person opportunities or both. Our life together at Trinity will likely be what is called hybrid. Many events, services and experiences at Trinity will be hybrid, providing individuals the means to attend in-person or online. Our work and ministry in terms of our missions and outreach will continue as strong as ever. 


We will start some new things. Some of our ways of doing things might pass away. We may have to adjust what we do and how we do it; we may have to change who does what and how they do it. But let's be clear, Trinity Episcopal Church has been here on the corner of Aston and Church for nearly 175 years. We will be here for another 175 years. Our call to be a faithful community of disciples of Jesus Christ has not changed one bit because of COVID. Jesus Christ and his promises to us have not changed one bit because of COVID. 


The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote to a community that had formed probably not 30 years after Jesus' resurrection. The letter's context comes in that many persons are trying to convince them that they should go back to their old ways of belief, ways that suggest that the only way to get to God is to earn it. 


Yet the author reassures the disciples that in Christ, they have an anchor in the very inward parts of their souls, an anchor of unconditional love and surety that will never let go. 


As a sailor, I know about anchors. I know how important it is to have an anchor in your boat no matter what you are doing and where you are going. It can be a bright sunny day with little wind when you leave the dock, but before you get back, you hit a squall that will tear your sails and your boat apart and smash you against the rocky shore. Again, whether your boat is 14 feet or 140 feet, one of your essential supplies is an anchor so that when the squall comes, you can let it down to hold you firmly in place. 


Brothers and sisters, the anchor is Jesus Christ, and Jesus has made himself known in this community of Trinity Church in Asheville, NC. Here, together, we find the anchor of our lives, the one who holds us firmly in place in these squalls of life. So that we can be the community of love, justice, and grace we are called to be. 


Trust in your anchor, rest in Jesus, rest with him at Trinity, where there is rest for the soul and power for living the living of these days. Squalls always pass. They may leave some damage behind, but with a firm anchor, you are free to move into a new day. 


God bless you. God bless yours. God bless Trinity Church. With thanks to Jesus, the anchor of our souls.