Hartford Pew Review: Trinity College Chapel

The standoffish-at-best relationship between some at Trinity College and the Hartford community is no secret, but if you are curious about who on that campus is welcoming to locals, here’s the answer: Trinity College’s faith communities. Today, we will just be looking at the Protestant service at Trinity College Chapel, but it is worth saying now that the other spiritual and religious groups on campus are also hospitable to the general public.

The Trinity College Chapel is one of the most visually noticeable structures in Hartford. As you drive on I-84, you can see it standing out from the neighborhood skyline. Walk next to the English Gothic style building and continue to be impressed.

Inside, wooden figurines grace the pews, which face each other, rather than the altar. Everything about the Chapel seems so formal. Then, the service begins.

Rev. Allison Read, the College Chaplain, tailors the 45-minute services to the student population, while continuing to include the handful of community members who attend.

This past Sunday’s worship was in the morning, followed by a free brunch catered by First & Last Bakery, but for the rest of the semester, the services — which Read described as “Episco-style” — will begin at 5:15p.m. and be followed by free community supper and discussion. For those who need to be lured with food, know that they’ve ordered dinner from various Hartford-area restaurants and cover a range of cuisines. Most church services elsewhere only manage to yield coffee and maybe doughnuts or pastries. There is not huge attendance of these services, but the timing and use of food makes sense — early morning services are not going to appeal to a population disinclined to get up and out before noon on the weekend; providing dinner removes the excuse of potentially missing a meal. It also discourages the worship-and-flee practice seen elsewhere, where people jump in their cars the second they’ve received communion. Want to build community? Keep the people in contact with each other long enough to do just that.

Besides the evening worship, shorter service, and better food, the homily is designed with its main audience in mind — those who have not already had extensive life experiences like careers and starting their own families. The most recent service focused on hospitality — on kindness to strangers. Though this message grew out of the week’s epistle from Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you were being tortured. . ..”), it and the homily seemed well-timed to the students who are beginning classes this week.

When it came time for Communion, the process was explained. In most places, it seems assumed that congregants understand what to do. Here, Read welcomes those from various faith backgrounds who may do things differently. Those in worship were invited to ask questions about the service or anything.

There are churches in Hartford where the practice, believe it or not, is to throw fire-and-brimstone sermons at those in worship. This is not one of them.

Having religious and spiritual worship services on a college campus is fairly standard, but many of these rely on using a meeting room or classroom. Those wanting church to look like church are lucky if they are able to get to the Trinity College campus.

The choir sits on the same level as the rest of the congregants. A little rusty at the beginning of the year, the choir typically gets stronger and stronger as the weeks go by. Lessons & Carols in December will be something not to miss.

There is a lot to be impressed by at the Trinity College Chapel, from the cloister and gardens to the building’s architecture to the positive atmosphere nurtured by Rev. Read. The congregation definitely skews young, with most in the 18-22 range, but there are some older adults in attendance. With the college’s demographics in mind, there is better-than-average racial and ethnic diversity in the congregation.

When the Chapel is not being used for the Protestant service, it hosts a Roman Catholic one and a non-denominational Christian service. The Crypt Chapel is used for Zen meditation.

As for accessibility, it depends on where you are coming from and what your needs are. There is no parking directly next to the building and no bus stop in the immediate vicinity. There are plenty of bike racks near the Chapel, which is located on the Trinity College campus and is hard to miss.

The Protestant services are on Sundays at 5:15p.m. during the academic year. These are open to both Trinity College students and those in the general Hartford community. The Chapel is located at 300 Summit Street.