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The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III is leaving Boston in February for Washington National Cathredral. (Globe Staff Photo / Evan Richman)
The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III is leaving Boston in February for Washington National Cathredral. (Globe Staff Photo / Evan Richman)

Trinity Church rector headed to D.C.

Leaving Copley Square to be dean of National Cathedral

The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, , who as rector of Trinity Church in Copley Square occupies one of the city's most prestigious pulpits, is leaving his post to take a job as dean of the National Cathedral in Washington.

Lloyd's departure comes after an extraordinary 11-year tenure in which the charismatic and erudite Mississippian led the venerable Episcopal parish through a period of intense growth in membership and finances. Trinity now says it is the largest Protestant congregation in Boston, and it is certainly wealthy, as well, having just completed a $53 million fund-raising drive that will be used to renovate the parish's iconic Romanesque church, a historic landmark widely considered to be a masterpiece of American architecture.

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Under Lloyd's stewardship, the parish has played an important role in civic life, particularly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of people who lived and worked downtown congregated there to pray or to think. On the first anniversary of the attacks, 10,000 people gathered outside the church to write prayers on giant ribbons. And Lloyd led the parish to begin a sliding-scale, faith-based counseling program for needy people, as well as a summer enrichment program for Boston teenagers.

The final chapter of Lloyd's tenure, occurring when the Anglican Communion is divided about homosexuality, has been dominated by a bruising debate at Trinity over whether parish clergy should bless same-sex couples. Lloyd, criticized by the left for moving too slowly and by the right for moving at all, plans to bless a same-sex couple for the first time early next year.

Lloyd, 54, is leaving Boston in February to head the National Cathedral, formally called the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, but also hosts worship services of many faiths and denominations and important national events, such as the recent funeral of President Reagan.

"I leave here with a very heavy heart," Lloyd said in an interview yesterday. "I have loved this place and the people here and the importance this church has, but what makes it possible for me to go is that Trinity is so strong and . . . is poised to begin a whole new chapter in its life.

"I felt strongly that God was calling me to go to this new position at the National Cathedral," he said. "I believe very much that the word and message for our time is reconciliation, when there are divisions everywhere, and it seemed like an important call to go try to contribute to being a voice for that in Washington."

Lloyd's replacement will be chosen by the vestry at Trinity, a group of lay leaders, and must be approved by Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The search is expected to take about 18 months; in the meantime, the parish will be overseen by the church's vicar, the Rev. Pamela Foster, and the top lay leader, Dr. Albert G. Mulley Jr., the senior warden.

"The loss of a leader with Sam's qualities is always difficult, but we've been very well prepared by the 11 years we've had with Sam to move forward," said Mulley, who was cochairman of the search committee that brought Lloyd to Boston. "Sam's ministry was never about Sam Lloyd."

Shaw, a longtime friend of Lloyd's, said Trinity is "one of the most important pulpits in the country," but that, at National Cathedral, Lloyd will have a national pulpit. "He's done an extraordinary job at Trinity, as a preacher and a teacher and developing the program there," Shaw said. "He's really made Trinity one of the most outstanding parishes in the country in the Episcopal Church."

Trinity was founded as a congregation in 1733; its current church building, designed by H.H. Richardson, was dedicated in 1877. The congregation says it has 4,000 households as members, up about 25 percent during Lloyd's tenure, and has seen dramatic growth in two relatively new constituencies to the parish, gays and lesbians and Nigerian immigrants. Annual giving has risen nearly fivefold, to $3.2 million.

"This is going to be a big loss to the city of Boston," said Merita Hopkins, chief of staff to Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "Sam Lloyd has always been a partner to the city, as a spiritual leader and as someone that oversees a very significant building that is very much a part of our fabric. But as a representative of the city and as an Episcopalian, I'm very proud that the next leader of the National Cathedral is coming from our city."

Lloyd has emphasized not only engagement with the city, but also the importance of high-quality preaching and religious education, particularly in a parish that attracts a large number of religious seekers and people who were not raised as Episcopalians.

"I try to preach in a way that invites, rather than confronts, that tries to help listeners see their lives through the lens of the Christian faith," Lloyd said. "My preaching is not issues-based. It's week by week, preaching the texts the church gives us.

"But through that a whole series of issues have come up: struggles with war and peace, Iraq, the struggles of gay and lesbian people, the importance Jesus places on serving the poor, the complexity of what it means to be rich in a world like ours, stewardship of our financial resources, and the role of faith in the workplace."

Particularly during the debate over same-sex blessings, Lloyd played a moderating role in the parish, supporting the goal of blessing same-sex couples, but also urging lay leaders to go slowly in consideration of the controversy over the issue in the global Anglican Communion.

"Living with that issue over these last several years has been hard and at times painful, but important, and our congregation has moved through it without in any way coming to a common mind, but with a sense of respect for one another," he said. "On both sides of this issue, there are people who have been hurt."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com. 

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