Popular Trinity pastor delivers final sermonBy Mary Ann Price
Larry Graham, Sr., used to load his children into his car and drive from Boston to Canton to take them to the carnival at Trinity Episcopal Church. Then one day about 12 years ago, he remarked to his son that they should go to the church sometime. They did, and Graham and his wife, Sharon, are just two members of the Trinity Episcopal community who are going to deeply miss Father Philip C. Jacobs III. Jacobs retired earlier this month, preaching his final sermon on Sunday, December 18.
Graham compared the newly retired pastor to the song “One in a Million.” “There’s only one Father Jacobs. He’s one of a kind,” Graham said. “He’s amazing. Everyone’s taking it really hard that he’s moving on.”
Jacobs grew up in Newtonville where he was a member of St. John’s Church. As a freshman at the University of Maine, he became active in the Episcopal faith community and thought about making the priesthood his life’s work.
He thought long and hard about his future, debating between joining religious life and a career as a professor of history. “I pressed it away,” he said of his interest in becoming an Episcopal priest, “and it would come back.”
In 1966 Jacobs began his studies at Berkeley Divinity School, which is now associated with Yale University. In the fall of 1970, he was ordained as a deacon and ultimately a priest. He holds master’s degrees in divinity, sacred theology and theology and has served as curate or rector at several churches. In October of 1990, he became the curate at Trinity Episcopal Church. “They seemed very eager to have me come,” he said of the congregation.
Jacobs has grown close to his parishioners. “The parish is a very close-knit group,” he said. “I think there’s a wonderful spirit here, as well as concern for social justice.”
Besides missing spending time with people he has known for several years, Jacobs will miss many aspects of his religious life. “Being at the altar,” he said, “celebrating the Eucharist. It’s where we gain our strength. The mystery ever deepens and the joy never dims.”
Jacobs is proud of a parish program that organized masses that were held in parishioners’ homes from time to time. He brought a variety of speakers to what he called Mass House to discuss ideas with the congregation. One Sunday a Catholic priest spoke on human sexuality; the late Tom Lewis, a labor leader and close colleague of brothers and priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan, was another speaker.
“This is a wonderful way of looking at topics that might not play well on Sunday mornings,” he said, “and finding out how people felt. People were very good about coming in and speaking.”
Gil Swire, the junior warden at Trinity Episcopal, has known Jacobs for more than 25 years and has deep respect for him. “He is there to be supportive in the most difficult of times,” Swire said. “He stood up for social justice. He has been really outspoken in the community for workers’ rights. And he has been there for his parish.”
Jacobs estimates that in the past 25 years at Trinity, he has baptized, confirmed, married, and presided over funerals for up to four generations of the same families. The congregation is now made up of more than 50 percent African American worshippers, which is one of the changes he has seen during his time at the parish.
Jacobs will still be involved with church life when he is needed and plans to continue his work with labor unions. He is unsure about where he will live, but knows that he will not be far away. He will miss his life at Trinity Episcopal and is grateful that he had an opportunity to serve there.
“It’s a little bittersweet, but it’s good for a parish to have a change from time to time,” he said. “I feel deeply privileged and richly blessed.”
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