Trinity Wall Street

Rector Abruptly Resigns Cash Rich, Member Poor Trinity Wall Street

on January 6, 2020

The top clergyman at one of the wealthiest parishes in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church has abruptly stepped down.

William Lupfer
The Rev. Dr. William Lupfer of Trinity Episcopal Church Wall Street.

The Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, rector of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church since 2015, announced his departure in a January 3 brief letter to church staff, first published by The Living Church.

Such an abrupt departure is highly unusual. Stepping down over a holiday break with no announced transition to an interim rector (Lupfer will be succeeded by church vicar Phillip A. Jackson, who will become priest-in-charge) indicates the departure decision was sudden. As of the morning of January 6, Lupfer’s name and photo had already been removed from the Trinity staff page.

“I have come to the decision to step away for a time, resign as Rector of Trinity, and enjoy some sabbath rest,” Lupfer wrote, noting that it follows “five years of intensive work” with vestry and other stakeholders.

Trinity holds billions of dollars in property and financial assets, dating to an early 18th century grant of Manhattan farmland from Queen Anne. In February 2019, the New York Times reported that the parish portfolio was worth an estimated $6 billion.

While not especially large in membership, the parish holds an influential role in the worldwide Anglican Communion. According to its web site, internationally, Trinity Church provides grants to dioceses, provinces, and seminaries within the global family of churches descended from the Church of England. Among those grants are funds provided to Anglican provinces in Africa to support their participation in gatherings friendly to the more liberal Episcopal Church.

In March, the parish announced it was effectively purchasing the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, a seminary that prepares future clergy for service in the Episcopal Church.

Trinity Wall Street
Remarkably unchanged: Trinity Wall Street reports constant membership and attendance numbers for much of the past decade.

The parish largely lives off these assets, reporting no congregational plate-and-pledge income for the past four reporting years. Prior to that, the parish reported exactly $600,000 in annual plate-and pledge donations going back to 2010. Statistics made available by the Episcopal Church Office of the General Convention list an unchanged membership of 950 and attendance of 625 from 2011 onward. Streaming video of services appears to show an attendance closer to 200 persons.

Trinity’s vestry and clergy have had friction before, usually centered around financial management disagreements. The Christian Post reported that the previous rector, The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, announced a departure in 2013 following accusations against him “included misreporting of numbers of worshippers on Sunday services; demands for a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse; an allowance for his Florida condo and fat salary; trips around the world at church’s expense; wasting more than $1 million on development plans for a luxury condo tower; and spending $5 million on a publicity campaign.”

The church listed the Federal-style townhouse on the market in 2015 with an asking price of $12 million, according to the New York Post.

Almost uniquely among parishes, Trinity’s 22-member vestry has people not drawn from the congregation. Among them is Gabrielle E. Sulzberger, wife of New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. Only seven persons serving on the large vestry are listed as members of the parish.

According to a letter from the parish vestry provided by a spokesperson for the church, it will conduct a call process to select the next rector, “who will lead the church in its mission both as a local congregation and global parish.”

Update: Lupfer briefly addressed his departure during a Sunday, January 5 worship service, which is below (50:50 mark). No explanation is offered for the immediacy of his resignation and the lack of a transition period.

  1. Comment by D Johnson on January 6, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    How pathetic. No plate or pledge contributions from the congregation? Must be nice; but actually not. I’d rather have plate and pledges than billions of dollars. When you pledge, you become connected to the parish in many ways. These parishoners are all there for the show and have no financial connection or concern. It’s no wonder TEC is failing, and falling.

  2. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on January 7, 2020 at 10:39 am

    Hi D, there have certainly been plate-and-pledge contributions made in the past four years, the parish simply isn’t reporting any numbers to the diocese and, by extension, to the Office of the General Convention that collects the data. Something is amiss here in the parish governance and the diocesan oversight.

  3. Comment by David on January 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Trinity Church, Wall Street, is a major property owner in Lower Manhattan. By royal warrant, they also have the rights to any dead whale that washes up on the Hudson shoreline, though this has not been exercised of late. The church is located in an area that has very few residents and most congregants travel some distance to attend services there. Many Manhattan churches have histories of several buildings, each one further north than the previous followIng residential migration. In recent years there have been some sudden departures such as that of the music director. People assume something is not quite right when these things happen.

  4. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on January 7, 2020 at 10:41 am

    That’s fascinating about the whale history, David — thanks for sharing. I looked it up myself and found the language in the 1697 royal charter. Amazing: http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2008/09/whales-in-new-york-past-and-present.html

  5. Comment by KEITH CHARLES EDWARDS on January 7, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Money is dropped in the plate. I’ve seen it.

  6. Comment by Palamas on January 7, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    A “church” where most of the leadership consists of non-members is not a church at all. It’s a financial corporation that has dress-up shows on Sundays.

  7. Comment by Alisa on January 10, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    What makes you define a church as member-poor? It is the largest church I’ve attended with several hundred at the family service most weeks and several more hundred at the 11:15 service. I’ve attended 5 Episcopal churches in my life and Trinity is the most vibrant I have ever attended.

  8. Comment by Rodney Durr on January 16, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    In the early 1990’s when I recorded attendance from annual reports in a diocesan office, the average annual worship attendance was the average from four days: first Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve, first Sunday of Lent and Easter (if I recall correctly).

  9. Comment by Steve on January 20, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Looking at the linked video (particularly the number of people that approach the altar for communion), I’d guesstimate a couple hundred in attendance for that one service, so an ASA of 625 seems believable, assuming ASA includes all services on Sunday (but I understand it includes Saturday as well). What doesn’t make sense is the reported attendance not changing since 2011. Based on the chart, looks like Trinity has chosen not to cooperate with any of its reporting obligations for years on end. As for whether its member poor; depends on how one defines that. While the numbers would be good for a reasonably successful neighborhood church, they certainly aren’t commensurate with the amount of money this church has. However, its vestry is definitely member poor. I conclude that calling this church member poor is overstating the case.

  10. Comment by Paul Porter on March 17, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Trinity is a money machine dressed up like a church, a church run by whiny, arrogant, conceited snots. The Episcopal Church has lost 2 million members in 3 decades because of its massive swing to Uber left wing politics. St Mary the Virgin on W 46 St has 150 people, maybe and of course a staff of 8? In a very few short years the Episcopal Church will be mostly a memory.

  11. Comment by David Mattingly on June 21, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    So, Father Bill…a trip to St. John’s, Plymouth should be in your plans. We, in our small parish would love to see you again. ~David

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