How Do We Welcome?

It isn’t easy to define Trinity. We’re a multi-generational parish of families spanning centuries; a house of worship for all; a prominent downtown presence; and, since 1977, cathedral church of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Trinity’s magnificent architecture and cemetery attract history buffs and visitors, while Cathedral concerts and special services draw members and the wider community. As the bishop’s seat, or cathedra, Trinity serves as the symbol and center of diocesan ministry, facilitating diocesan and community events.

For many of us, Trinity is our beloved community of faith. But a larger question is this—how do we, as both cathedral and parish, convey the inclusive welcome of Christ to all?  Below are two stories of those who came to Trinity as newcomers, and soon came to embody that Christ-like hospitality.

Four years ago, Marissa Roth came to Columbia as a USC diving team recruit.  Originally from Signal Mountain, TN, Marissa had no family or close friends here to guide her. What she was certain of, though, was that she would continue the spiritual path she’d begun in her youth—in her words, to “make the faith her own.” She immediately began looking for a new place of worship in Columbia.

As a “car-less” freshman, Marissa quickly realized that Trinity’s proximity to campus made it walkable. The first Sunday she visited Trinity, parishioner Jan Moore beamed a friendly smile, inviting Marissa to sit with her. Marissa joined Jan over the next months, and the two became friends—Jan even introduced her to Lizard’s Thicket breakfasts!  Another Sunday, as Marissa was walking down the aisle with eyes averted, she literally “bumped into” Charles Davis.  His kindly and humorous response, and his sermon that same day, further confirmed to Marissa that she’d found her church home.

Despite her engaging personality, Marissa describes herself as shy in a group.  Even so, when she attended her first Canterbury, she immediately volunteered to help with the Trinity youth program. At the same time, Austin Lewis, of St. John’s Episcopal in Columbia, joined her. The rest is history—an ongoing history of leadership and commitment to Trinity’s youth, despite the demands of college, and Marissa’s rigorous diving team schedule. In her junior year, Marissa was selected as a Vernon scholar, deepening her connection to Trinity.

This fall will mark Marissa’s third year leading a weekly 6:45 am Bible study for middle school girls at Bruegger’s Bagels. The group has blossomed from three to ten, and this year is expanding into two groups. Marissa believes this outreach has grown her faith; it has surely provided a spiritual anchor for girls during a transitional time of life.

Also this fall, Marissa begins graduate school USC’s MIBs program, while continuing her diving through spring. You’ll be seeing Marissa at Trinity before she heads to Italy in fall 2019, for continued studies in management and language immersion.  Most likely, you’ll see Marissa with college friends she’s invited and brought into the Trinity family, or chatting with Trinity youth. Both Marissa and Jan are examples of ageless, Christ-like hospitality at Trinity.

Dave and Wanda Loftin moved to Columbia 20 years ago, when Wanda took a USC research position.  As newcomers with a diverse denominational background, they began searching for a new church, with a priority that it offer the sacrament of Eucharist.  The two set out to visit Columbia-area churches, but were soon disheartened.  In their words, no one acknowledged or spoke to them.  In one congregation, they filled out a visitor’s card, but received no follow-up call or response.

It was Trinity’s reputation for outstanding music that finally led the Loftins to the Cathedral. After enjoying a Christmas concert, they decided to return for a service. On their first Sunday at Trinity, people in front and behind them introduced themselves, welcomed them, and sent them to Faye Folline, Trinity’s Newcomer Coordinator at that time.  Faye, the two said, “got them into everything,” including newcomer suppers at Trinity, where they met other newcomers and came to know longtime parishioners.

For the Loftins, “invitation” has been integral to their deepening involvement at Trinity.  After 18 years of attending but not officially transferring their membership, Dean Jones approached them about joining Trinity. They immediately said yes. Over the years at Trinity, they’ve been invited to, and joyfully attended, Cursillo.  Dave was encouraged to join Trinity’s homeless ministry, and did so enthusiastically. For Dave, those he serves are constant reminders of Christ’s living presence. Wanda is a lay Eucharistic minister, and a lay chaplain with Trinity’s Community of Hope. Dave is a loyal member of Men of Trinity. For the Loftins, the Growing in Christ Sunday School class has been another mainstay of their faith and fellowship for 20 years.

For those who wonder how to be a more welcoming cathedral and parish, Wanda says definitively: “Wear your nametag!”  She and Dave reach out to those who are obviously not regulars, ask them to sit beside them, and sometimes invite them to Sunday school. As Wanda says, as we age, so do our memories.  Wearing a nametag identifies Trinity members, and even if we can’t always remember names, we can enthusiastically and confidently say, “Good morning… John!”  At the same time, we offer the gift of our own names, helping build connection for all who enter Trinity’s doors.

Trinity is a large and caring community—but its size and stature can be daunting. As cathedral and parish, our charge must be to recognize those who may be unfamiliar, dare to reach out, and openly extend “invitation.”  As Wanda reminds us, nametags can make that hospitality so much easier.


-by Susan Craig