During the summer of 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down all communal activities, the vestry of Southport’s Trinity Episcopal Church decided to conduct a survey of its parishioners to determine the church’s direction in a post-pandemic environment.
“Because people had a lot of time on their hands, they responded in quite a lot of detail to give us feedback,” recalled Mark Grayson, a vestry member. “And as a result of really listening deeply to all the parishioners, we realized that we wanted to take a bold leap forward.”
According to Grayson, one of the strategies that the vestry decided to pursue was “a slate of learning opportunities that would enable people who don’t identify as religious but do believe that there is perhaps some kind of higher power moving us…to participate in a community and feel connected and belong to a place where their journey, along with ours, might be supported.”
The church, which will be celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2025, did a test-run supporting this concept with an outdoor presentation last October by actress-writer Kimberly Wilson – performing her one-woman musical “A Journey,” about Black women who changed the course of history. Wilson’s presentation earned kudos from both the congregation and the wider Fairfield-Bridgeport community, and the church followed up in January with a Zoom presentation by historians Dain and Constance Perry on the history of New England’s role in the American slave trade.
Recognizing that it had a vehicle to reach wider audiences that shared both social justice concerns and a passion for learning experiences, the church positioned this new endeavor under the banner of the Trinity Spiritual Center, with Grayson as director. A self-described “serial social entrepreneur” involved in education and the arts, Grayson used his connections to bring in award-winning actress/writer Anna Deavere Smith in March for a livestream presentation based on her lauded “Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity” and anti-ageism expert Ashton Applewhite in May on the problems created by age-focused bias.
Smith and Applewhite conducted their respective offerings via livestream, but Trinity Spiritual Center switched to in-person events on Sept. 9 with an appearance by writer and activist Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji. To his happy surprise, the guest speaker learned of the events that Grayson was conducting and asked to be part of his program.
Moving into the fall, Trinity Spiritual Center is featuring presentations by “Remaking Manhood” author Mark Green on the toxic aspects of masculinity, French sociologist and philosopher Raphaël Liogier on the challenges of modernity, wilderness guide Mark Kutowolski on encountering the divine within nature and theologian Matthew Wright on the role of faith in contemporary society.
“In addition to being an Episcopal priest,” Grayson said about Wright, “he’s also Sufi practitioner with deep knowledge in the prayer practiced by the desert mothers and fathers across all the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. He’s going to be fabulous.”
The upcoming presentations will also be livestreamed to keep Trinity Spiritual Center connected with a growing internet audience that it has cultivated from its earlier offerings. Grayson added the in-person events are free to the public thanks to funding from a “very generous donor in the community.”
While Grayson has guest speakers lined up through next May, one consideration that has yet to be resolved is where Trinity Spiritual Center fits into the wider Trinity Episcopal Church. Will it be an independent entity or a subsidiary under the church’s auspices like the nursery school that operates in the church building but has a separate board of directors and governance structure?
“It’s a good question and we don’t really know the answer,” Grayson acknowledged. “We’re going to keep wrestling with it for a little bit until it becomes clear what direction to go to. We will always be sort of under the umbrella of Trinity on some level. But we also acknowledge that church is a challenge for some people that we would love to support in the community, so we don’t want that to be a hurdle in this experience.”
For more, visit trinitysouthport.org/tsc