By Kirk Petersen
After leading the world’s richest Episcopal church for two years as priest-in-charge, the Rev. Phillip A. Jackson has been called as the 19th rector of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City.
“With its resources, Trinity has the unique opportunity – and responsibility – to respond to the needs of our times by feeding the hungry, working to end homelessness, and promoting racial justice, while supporting others who do the same,” Jackson said in the announcement.
Jackson has been at Trinity Wall Street since 2015, serving initially as vicar. He was named priest in charge in January 2020 after the abrupt resignation as rector of the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer. Jackson’s institution as rector will be February 26, at which time he will become the first Black rector in the church’s history. Jackson previously served parishes in Houston and Detroit, and started his career as an attorney in Hawaii.
It’s difficult to overstate the affluence of Trinity Church Wall Street. The church was founded in 1696, and in 1705 Queen Anne of England granted Trinity 215 acres of what is now Lower Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan real estate became valuable. Some of the land has been sold over the years, but the church’s most recent financial report shows $9 billion in net assets, of which $6 billion is real estate. That includes $2.3 billion in real estate held by joint ventures in which Trinity is the majority owner. Under accounting rules, those assets are included in Trinity’s financials even though the church does not wholly own or control them.
The church has an active philanthropy mission, and regularly donates millions of dollars to non-profits and social justice causes around the world. In 2021, the church made grants totaling $46 million.
Later this year, the church is scheduled to open Trinity Commons, five floors of community space in the 27-story Trinity Place office building, which Trinity developed next to the historic church at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street. The public portion of the building includes a full-court gymnasium, a teaching kitchen, a large hall that will seat 300, and a variety of studios and meeting spaces. The church’s administrative offices are planned for three floors above the public space.
In March 2019, Trinity essentially acquired the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.
A spokesperson said by email that Jackson would not be doing interviews until after officially starting as rector in late February. But Lupfer, who was not mentioned in Trinity’s announcement, spoke enthusiastically with TLC about his current role as priest in charge at a small church at a Colorado ski resort. “I’m going skiing with one of my vestry members this afternoon,” he said with a laugh on January 13, adding that he had similar ski dates the day before and after.
Christ Episcopal Church sits at an elevation of 8,000 feet in Aspen, an isolated celebrity playground of 7,000 people, 200 miles west of Denver. The church had a pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of 64, whereas Trinity in normal times holds five services every Sunday and multiple services on weekdays.
Lupfer’s unexplained resignation in 2020 generated speculation, and TLC asked him why he left. He said his departure was not as abrupt as it seemed, and that he had been discussing it with the vestry for months. After working up to 80 hours a week for five years, he said he had accomplished his primary goal, which was to change the business model of Trinity “from an owner-operator to an asset manager,” and that the church was on strong financial footing.
“I’m more vision than management,” Lupfer said, adding that Trinity’s challenge now is to manage into the new business model. “Most people would cling to that role forever,” he said, but he believes “all my other calls may have been preparing me for this call” in Aspen. He served churches in Illinois, Michigan, and Oregon before joining Trinity Wall Street in 2015. After leaving Trinity, he was interim rector at All Saints in Phoenix, Arizona, before being called to Aspen.
“I’m returning to the place where I began my ordination journey,” Lupfer said. After growing up in Chicago, he attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he began discerning a call to the priesthood.
Christ Church Aspen has a staff of five, including Lupfer. He said the number of employees at Trinity could vary wildly “depending on how you count them,” in part because the church paid the salaries of union trades people whom it did not technically employee. He gave a range of employees from 250 to 500.
That transition is the source of one of his greatest joys in his current role. “I worked with staff” at Trinity, he said. “Now I work with parishioners.”
Trinity Wall Street is a sponsor of The Living Church Foundation, Inc.