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Embodying Welcome

In every religious community that has life there are people who embody and extend that life. At Boston’s historic Trinity Church, one of those people is Bob Yearwood. His story invites us to think about all the small things that make up the culture of a congregation.

Profiled in the Boston Globe, Yearwood is introduced as the church’s “verger,” a position in the Episcopal Church that includes preparing for the liturgies. That obviously includes making sure that all the physical things are in place, but also that the community itself is ready. One of his fellow parishioners noticed, for example that he carries gold candy coins in his pocket to hand out to children when he portrays one of the kings as he always does at the Epiphany in early January and that every Sunday, kids hang on the end of the pew waiting for a fist bump as he walks by.

The culture of that church includes all the formal garments and objects, but also the candy coins and fist bumps.

This is also a person who is keenly aware of the ecology within which this church sits. Copley Square is both the cultural center of Boston’s Back Bay (across the street from the Boston Public Library) and the space where tourists mingle with the unhoused population. Yearwood staffs a post behind the church’s front desk and is described by the rector as “the intersection of the square outside and the congregation inside.’’ 

Even when a congregation doesn’t sit on an historic square, it needs such human connections to its surroundings.

But Yearwood’s story also reminds us of how important history is. His own story intersects with that of the church in many ways and invites us to think about the people in every congregation whose life stories bear telling. Gathering young and old for a congregational timeline exercise may be an excellent way to ring in any new year.

It’s worth discovering the stories, people, and places that will help you better understand your congregation.

Dr. Nancy T. Ammerman is Professor Emerita of Sociology of Religion in the School of Theology and the Sociology Department at Boston University. A longtime member of the Congregational Studies Team, she is Project Director of StudyingCongregations.org