As Trinity Episcopal Cathedral begins a year-long bicentennial celebration Sunday, the new dean said he believes the congregation is ready to embark on a new chapter, mindful of its history but focused on a third century devoted to spiritual formation and Christian outreach.
The Very Rev. Timothy “Tim” Jones arrived in July in Columbia after seven years as the senior associate rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville and already is immersed in the life of one of the city’s most visible and prominent congregations. He was installed formally on Sept. 15.
A native Californian who has spent much of his pastoral life in the South, Jones said he was drawn to Trinity because he felt an “instant sense of warmth” from members of the search committee.
“As I talked about my vision for the church in general and they talked about their vision for Trinity and what they were looking for in their next dean, I just thought there is a lot of overlap, a lot of commonality,” Jones said.
Spiritual growth is central to that vision, he said, which includes teaching from the Bible and the Christian tradition in a way that is relevant to modern life.
“It’s part of how I am wired, to care about people and their spiritual growth,” said Jones, who has written several books on the subject. He said that spiritual formation extends to Trinity’s responsibility to the larger community as a “life-changing presence.”
“There is a real heritage here of helping ministries and outreach, and I liked that,” he said. “I sense that this is a congregation that loves its past and appreciates its past, but also gets excited and eager to see what the future holds. I don’t get the sense that there is anxiety about the future.”
Already, Bishop W. Andrew Waldo, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, has put Jones to work as a member of a newly formed task force to study one of the most divisive issues in the life of the national Episcopal Church, the blessing of same-sex unions. In July, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church endorsed a provisional liturgy for same-sex relationships.
Jones, 57, said he hews to a more conservative view on the issue but understands there is a wide spectrum of opinion both within Trinity and the Upper Diocese. Like Waldo, he is intent upon finding a path that will keep the cathedral and the national Episcopal church, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, together.
Jones is married to the Rev. Jill Jones, an Episcopal priest who specializes in interim ministries. They have three grown children and three grandchildren.
He comes to Trinity after the tumultuous departure of former Dean Philip C. Linder, who was forced to resign in September 2010 after a series of personal and financial conflicts between Linder and the vestry, or governing board.
A civil suit, filed by Ellen Linder, Philip Linder’s wife, is still pending; both the cathedral and the diocese have declared it without merit. In the lawsuit, Ellen Linder claims Waldo inflicted emotional distress and defamed her when he suspended her husband in July 2010 and set in motion the series of events that led to his resignation.
The congregation sees Jones’ calming, spiritual presence and its bicentennial anniversary as a way to move past that very public and painful conflict and move on to a fruitful third century.
On Sunday, the congregation will begin its year-long bicentennial commemoration with a service that begins in the South Carolina State House and moves across the street to the cathedral. The fledgling 1812 congregation worshipped for two years in the original State House before building its first church.
There will be other special acknowledgements of those who through two centuries built the cathedral that serves as the cathedral parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
On All Saints Day, Nov. 1, the cathedral will hold a service to remember those members who have died since the church’s founding. That will require the reading of hundreds of names by lay readers drawn from the congregation and Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.
The service will begin at 6 p.m., with the names of those who died during the past year read first. The readers will work backward, chronologically, through the two centuries, concluding at midnight and resuming again at 9 a.m. Nov. 2 with prayer and the continued reading of the names.
“These are the saints on whose shoulders we built the church,” said retired USC historian Walter Edgar, who is writing a bicentennial history of the church.
But the celebration also looks to the future in its spiritual life and programming. Already, the congregation has begun a Third Century fund to pay for new projects that will take the cathedral into a new era.
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