Leaders of Trinity Church pledged on Sunday to reexamine the church’s decision-making procedures and renew its commitment to social justice following criticism over its purchase of a $3.6 million Beacon Hill condominium to house the rector and his family.
The real estate investment, recently outlined in the Globe, surprised many in this historic Episcopal church in Copley Square, which is known for its charitable giving. Church leaders have defended the purchase as a sound investment, but others called it an extravagance at a time when other parishes are struggling financially and renewing their focus on the poor.
On Sunday, church leaders explained the condo purchase at the parish’s annual meeting and announced the formation of committee and a task force to help them move forward. About 500 parishioners attended the meeting, an increase from past years according to a church spokeswoman, and they scrutinized budget figures and pie charts as daylight streamed through stained-glass windows. No one criticized the condo purchase publicly, but the rector, Samuel T. Lloyd III, acknowledged that two church meetings last month on the issue were difficult.
“The turbulence was real,” Lloyd said, speaking to members from the front of the church. “No one takes that turbulence lightly and everyone is determined to learn from it.”
Peter Lawrence, the senior member of the church vestry, an elected governing council that approved the condo purchase, said Trinity is forming a committee to consider allowing more people to weigh in on the church’s decisions in the future. The committee will also recommend ways to better inform the congregation. Many church members learned of the condo purchase from the Globe’s coverage.
He said the church is also setting up a task force to renew its focus on community service and social justice issues. The church has about 2,000 active participants and a $30 million endowment, and some felt the purchase of a spacious condo about a block from Boston Common strayed from that mission. The property includes a two-car garage and a courtyard with ivy and wisteria.
Lawrence emphasized that the church is already engaged in the community through its foundation and other programs. Trinity spends more than $3 million a year on a variety of programs, including those that mentor students, fund food pantries, and support people with cancer. For instance, the Trinity Education for Excellence Program mentored or provided jobs to 123 young people last year with the goal of guiding them to college.
The church began a program last year in Dever-McCormack K-8 School in Dorchester to counsel youths, help prevent violence, and promote literacy.
“Every year our church and the Trinity Boston Foundation contribute millions of dollars and thousands of hours to our community,” Lawrence told the congregation.
Tension over the condo purchase jarred the church, which is proud of its sense of community.
On Sunday, several church members said they were eager to move on. Lynne Jones, a parishioner from the suburbs, said she was pleased by the church’s transparency on the issue. “I was surprised because this is a very large expense,” she said, adding, “I’m pleased with the way the vestry handled it.”
“People care,” said Marva Nathan, a parishioner from Jamaica Plain. “If nobody cared what Trinity does, we would not have all this conversation.”