Rev. David Barney
Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church
81 Elm Street
Interviewed February 22, 2001
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer
for a project on Concord's Faith Community
Click here for audio in .mp3 format.
Rev. David Barney became rector of the Trinity Episcopal Church in 1981 and retires with a final sermon on March 11, 2001.
I was rector of a parish of about 350 members in Dafney, Alabama. The parish was the northern half of the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. It was Gulf coast living between Mobile and Pensacola, Florida. Very pleasant. Things had gone well in that parish. It had grown from a small mission to a parish. As a leader of the diocese, it supplied a lot of the lay leadership of the diocese. I'd been there for about a decade throughout the ‘70s, and I was looking around for a new challenge. I have relatives up here, aunts and uncles and cousins. So when this parish, Trinity in Concord, was beginning the search for a new rector, some of the relatives suggested my name. They got more than 100 names from various sources. What came of it was that the search committee telephoned me and asked would I be willing to talk with them? And I said yes.
I'd been up in this part of the world several times as a boy visiting relatives, vacationing in Vermont and on the Cape and places like that from time to time. So it wasn't a strange area to me. As a matter of fact, I was looking over a book that I have at home and I have two big companion volumes, one of the works of Hawthorne and one of the works of Thoreau and a third one of Emerson that I must have gotten in early high school. They are all marked up. This place had intrigued me.
So I came here and began on September 1, 1981. The church had new leadership roughly my age, and was hopeful. It was looking forward, but it had come through a hard time as most large mainline WASP protestant congregations had in the latter ‘60s and ‘70s. They had gone at a peak of almost 2000 active members to I couldn't find 500 when I got here. The official records I've looked up say 510. The church had gone through a demoralizing time, but willing to take a chance on this stranger from the south and pull together and support new programs and a new ministry. They did a wonderful job. I think that drop in active members was a reflection of what was going on in society. Most large New England mainline parishes or congregations - mainline is Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Methodist and Episcopal, most congregations of large size in New England lost from 2/3 to 3/4 of their membership in those decades. It was a terrible bloodletting. You can only speculate why. I think rebellion against authority and against the old ways of doing things, all those things fed into it. It was a time of social turmoil as you know.
Trinity Church represented a kind of establishment that young people would rebel against. Religion tends to be conservative and careful about changing, and changing only very reluctantly and only for good reason. Services were traditional. We were just the sort of thing young people rebelled against. I know that because I was in my 20s in the 1960s so I lived it in my blood. I was all for changing the church in every way possible.
In the 1950s there was a kind of cultural religious climate. It wasn't so much among the average people of deep committed belief as it was just part of life. You have barbecues on Saturday afternoons, you go to church on Sunday morning, it was just expected of everyone. That's the way everyone lived.
The parish itself selects the next rector through its governing board which is the vestry. The vestry has the responsibility of calling the next rector. The bishop is involved in that process usually giving advice and support and help. And the bishop will ratify or say why he or she won't agree with the selection that the parish makes.
When I came, the congregation was divided. There were lots of different divisions. One was the last rector, Nigel Andrews who is living in Rhode Island and a very fine man, left abruptly and unhappily, and the congregation was divided between those who thought that was a good thing and those who thought that was an awful thing. So that was one division. Then there were divisions over the style of worship. There was a charismatic crew and the other thought the kind of worship we were doing even back then was too traditional. There was an interim minister, Theodore "Tad" Bowers. He had been here a couple of years before I came. Mr. Andrews left in 1979 and Tad Bowers was here through Easter of 1981.
The role of the pastor was not so much to respond to the congregation but to equip the congregation to respond to the world. As rector, my ministry is to the church, and the church's ministry is to the world. As so every person baptized is baptized into ministry and to God's service in the world. And, my role as rector is to support and equip the congregation and do all I can to see that they have everything they need for their ministry in the world which is 99.9% of the church's ministry.
Ours is the last Christian worship house to be built in Concord. We are the johnny-come-latelies among the Christians. The Jewish group, Kerem Shalom, came after we did, but among the churches we're the last, and that was 1884. Concord was already 250 years old when we got here. The Episcopal Church in this country is the daughter church. We are a member of the Anglican Communion where we are a daughter of the Church of England. We're exactly what the Puritans were trying to get away from. Actually Peter Bulkeley, one of the two founders of Concord, was an ordained priest in the Church of England and he was rector and succeeded his father as rector of the parish church in Odell in England. He was deprived of his living as being rector by Bishop Laud, Bishop of Lincoln, so Bulkeley came here. He was with a party that was not like the Plymouth colony. Bulkeley's party, John Winthrop's party who were the Puritans, wanted to remain in the church, the Anglican Church, but to purify it, to reform it. He didn't see himself as starting a new church or a member of the new church, the way the Congregational Church is separate from the Episcopal Church. That would have been foreign to Bulkeley and what he thought, but he certainly didn't want to have the same practices and roles and liturgy as the Church of England did in those days. So we came in 1884. There was some stir in town about that. I remember hearing that one gentleman wrote in the paper that there is a new religious society taking up a subscription to buy property in town for which there is no need.
But they did buy land here near the South Bridge in the Tory part of town. You can see at the end of this block at the corner of Main and River Street, the other end of River Street, you look up on that chimney and you see the chimney is painted white with a black band around the top. That was the sign that this was a Tory house. That was the symbol of those whose sympathies laid with the mother country, the English and the King. Most of those Tories after the Revolution fled either back to England or more often Canada or the British Caribbean.
The church membership was small until after World War II. Right after the war two wonderful rectors came along. The first was Bradford Hastings, later a bishop in Connecticut. He organized the church and established the commission system that we still have part of today and lay leadership in a very organized good way. His tenure was brief, only four years or so. It was followed by William Clark all through the ‘50s and that was a time of explosive growth. By the time he left at the end of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, that was the high water mark in membership. He left in 1961 or 1962. He and Rosemary and his kids were just the age and shared interests with a lot of the young people who were moving into Concord in those days, Conantum, Willard School, that kind of new people. We got a disproportionate share of those people in the ‘50s. That's when they outgrew the old church which is now our chapel, and planned for a huge new church which was completed in 1962. Some of the people who moved in then were named Forrester, Spinney, Day, Willett, all wonderful people.
They tended to be liberal and ecumenical in outlook. Bill Clark himself worked for the World Council of Churches for a period and he gave a lectern where the Bible is read in the church and on the front of the lectern is carved the symbol of the World Council of Churches. That meant a lot to him and he worked ecumenically as Anglicans and Episcopalians tended to be the leaders in the ecumenical movement through this century. I looked at the records from back then and literature from here, and one is hard put to find the word Episcopal on anything. That's one thing I reinstated because I think there's nothing wrong with it. It is a good brand, Episcopal. I love it and there's nothing wrong in having your own identity while you fully appreciate and enter into cooperation with Christians of other brands.
Waves of new members came through over time. Those around my age were taking leadership positions in the church when I came. It's normal for a good proportion of the lay leaders to be around the same age and station as the rector of a parish. They were people who tended to be young professionals or people in management who had very strong ideas and hopes for the church regaining its strength and grow. The older group still supply wonderful support and leadership for the church. The older group seemed to be very happy to hand over the leadership to a new generation and it was a wonderful group of people.
A strong faction among the younger ones wanted to have a folk mass or folk music, and we do from time to time have alternate kinds of liturgy and special kinds of liturgy. That was one of the first puzzles so to speak to us all, how to have a church that had all these different elements in it without their getting upset either with each other or with me as the person responsible for deciding. One of my principals has always been to enjoy and appreciate diversity of ways of looking at things and doing things, but diversity through addition rather than through subtraction. Rather than saying this group and that group well, you can't have what you'd like to have, but say well, let's look at it and we can add a service or add a way of doing something. And that's what we've done. The early service on Sunday for example tends to be almost always very, very traditional using the language of the 16th century still with prayers and liturgy from those times. Then the 10:00 service where the bulk of the families and young people come as well as others is almost always contemporary language of our own day with more color and more music. We've had always, but especially in the last year or two, a series of services that are just wide open in their expression with dance, graphics, slides, different kinds of music. So rather than take anything away from one group, it's been our policy to try to add things that are meaningful to people.
Today we have over 1300 members today. Our growth over the last two or three years has been chiefly young families. We average around a couple of baptisms a month. My assistant says we have a little shy of 500 enrolled young people up through the age of 18 in the various graded classes. There's where the growth has been in recent years. The age 60 and over are also a large group. And the age 30 and 40 people are the parents of the young kids.
We're in the midst in trying to make all our public spaces within the church handicap accessible and it's been a huge project. We have delayed it far too long because the only way we could think of doing it was by building an elevator right in the center of things that connects six levels believe it or not. We kept thinking well, there has to be an elegant, simple, inexpensive solution rather than doing that. After a decade of having far too many architects looking at it and that kind of thing, we finally concluded no, there is no elegant simple way, we have to bite the bullet. It's a $700,000 project with ramps coming from outside and some ramps within and the elevator and all of those things. It's substantially completed I'm happy to say.
Lanny Day was the supervising architect in the building of the new church. Pietro Belluschi designed it but Lanny Day oversaw it. Lanny was part of the committee that chose the glass in the new church, especially the great triangular Trinity window. It's glass from chards. It's a stunning window when you walk in the building especially for the first time coming into that room and seeing those colors.
I would say many of our congregates are from other religions originally. Through the years I have done inquirers classes and confirmation classes and that kind of thing preparing people for reception into our community. Generally about one-third have been Episcopal. The others come from other religions, Roman Catholics have a large share here because over 50% of Massachusetts is Roman Catholic so that would be natural, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterian coming in for one reason or another. I think the appeal is the combination of two things which keeps me an Episcopalian. One is the tradition. We have the traditional liturgy, the traditional creed so we hold onto those right back to Jesus's time and before. On the other hand open to new ideas, to learning, to engaging what's going on in the culture today. So we have I think an excellent balance of those two things, the tradition and the openness of thought makes for a very creative church.
From early days the characteristics of worship by Christians on the Lord's day, Sunday, was that they would gather and have that meal remembering Jesus and eating and drinking with Jesus and having the meal where Jesus is present to the people. There's an old theological tag, it's not necessarily Episcopalian, it's just main stream Christian from the Middle Ages, the church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the church. One way of defining what the church is sacramentally is either that universal body of Christians at all times and all places or specifically and particularly and locally, it is the community that gathers week by week to celebrate the Lord's Supper, holy communion, the Eucharist, the mass.
Since the 1970s women have been ordained Episcopal ministers. That's one of the opennesses to the culture and change that the Episcopal Church has had. I think the hottest topic now in the Episcopal Church is the gay issue. Episcopalians differ over that and so practices differ really depending largely on what diocese you're in. Where this parish and this diocese sees things is that gay folk are as welcome and appreciated and incorporated and can have and do have as much a role in the church as anyone else. We have openly gay members and elected leaders and that kind of thing in this parish, and a statement of policy that we print every Sunday saying that everyone who speaks the love of God is welcome to come into fellowship here without regard to and then there is a long list including sexual orientation.
There is dogmatic authority. A member of the clergy for example can be brought up or presented for trial for irregularity of doctrine or immorality of life. What irregularity of doctrine includes would be denial of the truth of the historical creeds. The latitude to which the creeds may be interpreted by any one member even to the point of saying that some elements in it are purely symbolic, the latitude is tremendously wide. The ethos of the church is that we are willing to tolerate any error. Jefferson put this over a gateway into the University of Virginia. Here we're not afraid to tolerate any error so long as truth may be free to combat it. Well, that's a nice liberal enlightenment kind of point of view. But that pretty well describes the Episcopal Church these days. The liturgy seems to hold people together here. It's the liturgy, a Book of Common Prayer, that is the focus of unity in the Episcopal Church. That's what holds this thing together. The old joke in the Episcopal Church is the church is held together by a prayer book and a pension fund.
The outreach with the inner city with social justice is important to us in particular. We're living in this almost purely white, middle-class/upper middle-class town. We have to go to extra lengths sometimes to find people other than the class and station most of us have in order for us to have a more complete well-rounded kind of humanity. For a long time this parish and St. Stephens Church in the South End of Boston, which was formerly black until the last few decades and it's become majority Hispanic or Latinos since then, has had a sister relationship. The largest part of purely outreach resources for example goes to St. Stephens. People from this parish have been a St. Stephens Committee for a long time and we do things cooperatively in all sorts of ways over the years. Right now the relationship is very strong between the two. That's a good thing. Other than that we have what we call the Rainbow Committee in this church. Their mission is to enhance and increase our diversity and our comfort as a congregation with diversity. They've been sponsoring and incorporating parishioners in anti-racism training and several of them have taken the course to the mentors and leaders in anti-racism training and cooperatively with other parishes both in the city and the suburbs.
One of our parishioners, Jean Bell, was long ago one of the founding members of the Concord Prison Ministry which has evolved into what it is today with a paid Executive Director. She had cast around for creative ways not simply administering to inmates in the two prisons in Concord, but helping them turn their lives around and being a resource for their becoming good citizens and productive members of the community and the country. Over the last few years, two things have held her imagination. The first was the workshop on anger or alternatives to violence program. It was really begun by the Quakers and Jean was instrumental in instituting those. Now alternative justice working with sheriffs and prison wardens in this part of New England who have done wonderful work in helping a convicted prisoner first of all deal with the crime and the victim if any, or if they are identifiable, of the crime to help creatively deal with what they've done and the people that they've done harm to, and move on from that and how they're going to repair and restore and move their lives. I so admire the work that she has done and is doing in that.
Concord is really in danger of becoming a golden ghetto without the kind of range and diversity and life styles that are so essential to good human flourishing. I remember when they were thinking about building a couple of low or moderate income houses near Willard School. The kind of horrified reaction raised as if poverty or modest income was a disease that was catching that if Willard School children had to play nearby would somehow be horribly tainted. It was so sad to hear that dialogue. Concord's in real danger as far as that is concerned.
As far as the Concord Clergy Laity Group, I‘ve taken an active role in it. If it didn't exist, I'd be one of the first to try to start it. It's important that we know each other, that we communicate with each other, that we work for understanding and appreciating each other and face the problems and opportunities in town in a united and cooperative kind of way. I've served a couple of terms as president of that over the last two decades. It's a wonderful group to be a part of. I'm so proud of the clergy in Concord. An example is the rotating ecumenical Thanksgiving service. I don't know if most people remember but there was a time when it was absolutely forbidden for people from one congregation to visit another congregation, not just discouraged or smiled at, it was forbidden. There was so much ignorance and prejudice. If we can do all we can do together and cooperate, all the praying and working we can do together, we would be so much better off.
The day in September 1989 when Kerem Shalom was dedicated and the walk from the First Parish Church up Elm Street, there were people from Trinity church holding signs of welcome. That was a wonderful day. The Concord Jewish Group has been meeting there for years, bless the First Parish for it. They'd gotten money to build Kerem Shalom down at the other end of Elm Street and they were taking the Torah and the congregation from one building to the other, a ceremonial walk about midday as I recall. They had to walk by the front of Trinity to get there. So we made posters and signs and songs to sing to them. When they got here, I think we sort of startled them. I think they were surprised. We were on the front lawn to greet them and the main sign said, "Welcome to Elm Street". Then we joined them in the walk down to their new quarters. It was a wonderful day.
It's the Book of Common Prayer that holds Episcopalians together, Anglicans in general but Episcopalians. It's more of a library than a book. It has the many forms of daily service in the front, the weekly prayers for all the year, special days and holy days, and all sorts of forms of the Eucharist, all the Psalms, a catechism. It's really a great handbook. You can do all your worship with this just one book and the Bible. The language itself, same words that I've heard from a little boy as early as I remember are still in use today, and I find it really moving. For example, there is a general confession of the whole congregation at the beginning of morning prayer, and the old language that I remember from a boy is still being used today. And it starts this way -- "Almighty and most merciful father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But, oh thou Lord have mercy upon us. Spare thou those who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord." You notice that it's not politically correct and young clergy, and I dare say there are a lot of them, won't know those words. They will only know the contemporary version which we use most of the time now. But it's very moving to me to have these old words and the phrasing of them, the erring and straying, the devices and desires of our hearts, they are just ingrained. They are part of my sinew and bone.
It's estimated over 80% of the liturgy is right from scripture of the Book of Common Prayer. There's one based on the passage from the prophet Isaiah that to me has a beautiful meaning, the words mean what they say and they say it only once. It's a prayer for quiet confidence. "Oh, God of peace who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy spirit lift us we pray thee, to thy presence where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." Then there's one called In the Evening. It's also an old 16th century English prayer. "Oh, Lord, support us all the day long until the shadows lengthened and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of light is over and our work is done. In thy mercy grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest in peace. Amen" It's just beautiful. And one from evening prayer and it goes this way and this is a contemporary prayer. "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen." Shield the joyous, isn't that wonderful? I could multiple that for weeks, but that gives you a flavor of what it's like and why I love it. I think maybe our strongest services are weddings and burials. Again, they say things very strongly and say them once.
My wife Beverly and I are going to stay in Concord after my retirement. I have a special interest in religion and its history in Concord. I was going to do a project one summer about sketching out the history of Concord from early times to the present. I've collected sermons through all that time, but I really got lost in the thickets of the 17th century and I'm still sort of mining that time. That's where I am right now. The Concord Library archives has a Daniel Bliss sermon in shorthand, and I don't how to read that shorthand. He was at the First Parish when George Whitfield came through and George Whitfield praised Bliss's preaching, so he must have been a good preacher. I have a lot of challenges and a lot of fun ahead in retirement.