Earlier this year, the congregation of Trinity, Newark, began the painful process of demolishing their 125-year-old sanctuary, auditorium and chapel due to structural damage. In an ongoing Connections’ series, “The Journey Toward Our Future,” the people of Trinity will share with us the story of how they came to this impossible decision and the journey to their new future as the Episcopal Church in Newark, Ohio.
Part 1: Prologue
With over 190 years since its founding in 1826, Trinity Episcopal Church in Newark, Ohio, has a rich history of faithful worship and service to God in our community. That commitment to worship and service has never wavered. The names of clergy and members are etched in our hearts. The generosity of many throughout the years allowed us to have our beautiful worship space for many years. We are thankful for that witness and generosity.
For many years, Trinity was a thriving parish, active in the community and diocese. There were large Sunday school classes for children as well as a youth choir. The outstanding music program was known throughout the city. A number of women’s guilds supported the ministry of the parish and a number of community programs began at Trinity.
Nationwide church attendance began changing in the 1960s with weekly Sunday attendance by families becoming less common. Trinity saw its membership and active participation decline as well. By 2000, average Sunday attendance hovered around 90. That number declined further through the years, with our average Sunday attendance in 2017 being 43. Through the years and in spite of the decline, the Trinity family has continued to worship and learn together as well as reaching out to support our community, embodying our motto: Love God and show that love to others.
In late 2011 we got bad news – really bad news. An architectural and engineering study of the buildings revealed serious structural issues with our historic buildings. The estimated cost to repair the buildings exceeded $1M. That is a lot zeros for a small congregation. But we believed we could raise the funds to pay for the necessary repairs, so we set out to do just that! We worked very hard; we gave generously and sacrificially. We turned over every rock we could think of to raise funds and we have every right to be proud of our efforts.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate over the last two years with the first group of congregations in the diocese using the Episcopal Building Fund‘s Recasting of Assets Program, sponsored by the diocesan Commission on Congregational Life. (Read more about the Recasting process) The program gave us the opportunity to explore and learn tools to help us have difficult conversations and eventually make gut-wrenching decisions.
Unfortunately, in the face of continued deterioration of the primary worship space, we came to the very difficult, emotional decision to stop raising funds, to look for ways to liquidate our beloved assets, and disassemble the buildings with the dignity they deserve.
So that is where we are now. Our historic buildings are gone and we have established a sacred space in Simpson Hall (the parish hall) in which we worship. Trinity is alive and we are looking for ways to be a faithful, vital, thriving presence of Christ in our community. The motto recently adopted by the vestry is “Listen. Pray. Act.”
I recently read that as Christians we can be one of three things: risk-takers, caretakers or undertakers. I believe we’ve decided to be risk-takers. I think that is some of what the Rev. Jack Baker (previous, longtime Trinity rector) meant when he exhorted us in his dismissal to “Be the Church”. Alleluia!
Submitted by Cathy Bagot