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Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne
For photographs, see:
Trinity Episcopal Church Archives website
For parish registers, see the following links from Familysearch. A free registration and login is required for access.
Parish Register, Christ Church (1839), Trinity, 1844-1853
Parish Register, 1839-1888
Parish Register, 1889-1923
Parish Register, 1923-1947
Marriage Register, 1924-1941
Marriage Register, 1941-1961
Register of Communicants, 1948-1964
Baptismal Register, 1948-1974
Vestry Minutes, 1839 (Christ Church); 1844-1878
Vestry Minutes, 1879-1912
Vestry Minutes, 1913-1931
Vestry Minutes, 1932-1947
Vestry Minutes, 1947-1952
Vestry Minutes, 1953-1959
Vestry Minutes, 1960-1970
The Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne can trace its origin to the tireless efforts of Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, Missionary Bishop of the Northwest, who arrived in town in 1837 to assess the feasibility of establishing a church. Fort Wayne was then a remote frontier outpost, and the Episcopal Church found itself a weak competitor at that time in the mission field. Two years later Kemper sent a missionary, the Rev. Benjamin Hutchins of Philadelphia, and established Christ Church, but the parish folded in less than a year for lack of support. Most parishes in the new Diocese of Indiana were located in central and southern part of the state.
A few years passed until the spark for a establishing a church reignited. Peter P. Bailey, a merchant from New York City, settled in town and missed the services of his former church. Together with several other lay leaders, he persuaded Kemper to send another missionary, the Rev. Benjamin Halsted of New York and previously of New Harmony, Indiana. Together they organized Trinity Episcopal Church on May 25, 1844. The church faced many initial financial and recruiting challenges and met initially in the county courthouse until it could raise funds for building a small, wood-frame chapel at the corner of Berry and Harrison streets. They bought an organ with four stops – the first documented church organ in town.
Trinity’s earliest members came from several groups, including area residents who had been Episcopalians in the East, English and Canadian immigrants, and newcomers to the faith, many of them community leaders, who found the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer intriguing, its sermons intellectual, and the atmosphere of the church not overly judgmental.
During the Civil War under the second rectorate of the Rev. Joseph Large, who returned at the vestry's request, the vestry and lay women together raised funds to construct a new Gothic Revival edifice in an acclaimed design by Charles Crosby Miller of Toledo, Ohio. The building included split-faced sandstone walls with limestone trim and painted glass windows of English design, most of which still survive in the church. The edifice was completed in 1866 and consecrated two years later by Bishop Joseph Cruikshank Talbot after the parish had raised additional funds for a new organ. The church was nestled in what came to be known at the West Central Neighborhood and was surrounded by large Victorian-style houses.
The parish grew steadily through the late nineteenth century. Several rectors, including the Rev. Colin Campbell Tate, William Naylor Webbe, and Alexander Seabrease, preached a strong Social Gospel message, advocating for outreach to the poor, temperance, and women’s suffrage. Many members of the congregation were well-educated and supported a variety of reform efforts, including advocacy for a city parks and boulevard system. In 1892 Seabrease and the vestry redecorated the church with a new pulpit (intricately inlaid with brass cartouches), a marble baptismal font with a brass eagle cover, an eagle-shaped lectern, marble altar, and a silver communion service, all of which are still in use. A vested choir of men and boys made its first appearance and became popular.
The Diocese of Michigan City was created in 1898 in the top third of Indiana. Trinity, as the largest parish, exercised much influence. The Rev. Edward Wilson Averill, the first to be called “Father,” arrived in 1904 and built the church into a program-sized parish. His successor, the Rev. Louis Rocca, redecorated the nave in the 1920s with a décor that many considered ornate and garish with deep reds, blues, and gold. He also added a rood screen. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the Rev. James McNeal Wheatley, the most Anglo-Catholic rector in the church's history, led the parish successfully in paying off its mortgage through a period of austerity and brought the congregation through World War II.
During Wood’s tenure the neighborhood around the church began to evolve. Though the owners of some of the old houses, especially to the west of the church, restored them to their original finery, they divided others into apartments for lower-income housing or converted them to offices. Many others were demolished to make room to parking lots. Since then, a strong preservation movement has involved in the city to protect the remaining historic homes, and Trinity stands inside a local historic district with covenants surrounding the protection of its external appearance.
Trinity’s strong Anglo-Catholic liturgical model began to evolve in the 1970s during the rectorate of Wood’s successor, the Rev. Dr. C. Corydon Randall. A Broad Church model with strong lay leadership and a new sense of openness replaced the older style. Randall instituted the commission system of parish administration, increasing both lay participation and outreach. He also opened the communion rail to all baptized Christians and invited women to preach, serve on the vestry, and brought girls into the acolyte corps. Together with several church leaders in 1977, he helped found Canterbury School, a private, independent school for grades kindergarten through six that used the church classrooms for several years until moving to its own quarters in 1980. It has become an acclaimed educational institution in the state. Randall also spent much of his rectorate renovating the parish buildings, spearheading a capital campaign, creating endowments, and having the church entered on the National Register of Historic Places. After leaving Trinity in 1988, he served parishes in San Diego, California, and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Now retired as Rector Emeritus, he and his wife returned to Fort Wayne and are members of the congregation. He often leads the Friday Morning Study Group and occasionally the Adult Forum, teaching on Old Testament topics.
Randall’s successor, the Rev. Frank H. Moss III, built upon Randall’s legacy of reform and openness. In 1992, he brought the first woman priest to the diocese, the Rev. Robin Thomas, to serve as Trinity’s curate. He also continued to build the endowments. Under the leadership of its precentor, Wayne Peterson, the church’s musical offerings continued to enjoy local acclaim. Trinity became with the Royal School of Church Music that has as its motto, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Many in the congregation recognize and appreciate Peterson’s spiritual, as well as musical, gifts. Moss left in 1999 and later served churches in Massachusetts and Oregon before eventually retiring to Oregon.
Trinity’s eighteenth rector, the Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Hansen, arrived in 2006 from Nebraska. Hansen inaugurated a labyrinth ministry, initially using a canvas inside the Great Hall and later constructing a permanent labyrinth of stone on the western side of the parish grounds. Through local press coverage it has sparked interest from Christians of other denominations. In 2010 the parish led a successful capital campaign to replace its aging boiler and heating system. It later received several large bequests to refurbish and replace its organ and build a new handicap-accessible entrance and carport on its western side. As a downtown parish the church has become involved in a variety of outreach ministries, including Wellspring Social Services, the Associated Churches Food Bank, the West Central Neighborhood Ministry (led by five parishes including Trinity), and Habitat for Humanity. Its clergy participate regularly in an annual interfaith Thanksgiving service. Traditional liturgical music and hymns, expertly presented by its choir, remain a strong part of the parish DNA, and Peterson, who has served more than 30 years as precentor, regularly leads the parish in a variety of special concerts and events in addition to Sunday morning worship. As retired Bishop Edward S. Little has commented, “Trinity is very Cathedralesque.” Hansen announced that he would retire at the end of 2016, though he plans to remain in Fort Wayne and stay active in the diocese. He has said that leaves the parish in a strong position for new growth and vision. In 2017, the parish called the Rev. T. J. Freeman to be its 19th rector.
Benjamin Hutchins, 1839
Benjamin Halsted, 1844-1846
Joseph S. Large, 1848-1854
Caleb Alexander Bruce, 1854-1855
Eugene Charles Pattison, 1856-1858
Stephen Henry Battin, 1858-1863
Joseph S. Large, 1863-1872
Colin Campbell Tate, 1872-1879
William Naylor Webbe, 1879-1888
Alexander Washington Seabrease, 1888-1904
John Newton Rippey, (interim) 1904
Edward Wilson Averill, 1904-1923
Louis Niccola Rocca, 1923-1930
Joseph William Gubbins (interim), 1931
Charles Noyes Tyndell, 1931-1932
James McNeal Wheatley, 1932-1947
Peter Langendorff (interim), 1947
George Bartlett Wood, 1947-1971
Chandler Corydon Randall, 1971-1988
David Gurniak (interim), 1988-1990
Frank Hazlett Moss III, 1990-1999
Henrietta Brandt Lavengood (interim), 2000
Rebecca Ferrell Nickel, 2001-2004
Robert Askren (interim), 2004-2006
Thomas Parker Hansen, 2006-2016
T. J. Freeman, 2017-
John D. Beatty, Beyond These Stones: A History of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1994.
Rev. Edward Wilson Averill
Arguably one of the most successful and talented rectors in Trinity's history was its tenth rector, Edward Wilson Averill. At just 34 at the time of his arrival in 1904, he represented a new generation of leadership that would bring significant change to way the parish was administered.Averill was a native Hoosier, born in Elkhart on 13 March 1870, the son of the Rev. Martin Van Buren Averill and wife Rosette Badger (Wilson). His father had been rector of St. John's, Elkhart, and young Edward had grown up in the diocese. He had graduated from Northwestern University in 1888 at the age of just 18, and then enrolled in Western Theological Seminary in Chicago, being ordained a deacon at age 21 and a priest at 24, the earliest ages that these titles could be conferred. Upon graduation, he worked as a missionary in Illinois and as an assistant in Chicago before being made rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Peru, Indiana, in 1898. There he had served successfully in several diocesan offices under Bishop White and had married his wife, Carrie Brownell, on 3 June 1902. In time they would have six children, a son and five daughters, over the next decade.The new rector arrived in Fort Wayne on 29 May 1904, preaching his first sermon, in which he said he was available to meet with anyone in the parish at any time. He admitted he was not perfect and he urged his new parish to pray for him daily. "Find out my defects, not for criticism but for better working for God in spreading the truth."Averill took a more liturgical view of church work than either of his predecessors. From the beginning of his tenure he sought to raise the spiritual conscience of the parish with an innovative, High Church style, initiating weekly communion services at the 7:30 service and biweekly communion at the 10:45 service. He chanted Mass regularly, and though he abstained from some Catholic gestures such as crossing himself, he went to work daily in his cassock and labored hard to add more members to the communicant rolls. Some parishioners began calling him "Father Averill," and he accepted the new title, even though it had a more Catholic sound.The choir continued to grow and improve under the leadership of the Scottish-born chorister High McLetchie and organist Roscoe Siehler, both of whom had been hired in 1905 to rebuild the men and boys choir after it had suffered under earlier budget cuts. After they left the parish, Averill hired Alexander Barr, who was followed by Fred G. Church in 1908. Church was a particularly gifted musician, and the choir thrived under his patient leadership. Boys were paid a dime a week and were promised a week in the summer at camp, which became a major incentive for attracting new recruits.Averill might be described as Trinity's first modern rector. He worked to eliminate many of the practices of the previous century that had become arcane by the 1900s. He established a printing press in 1907 to print a regular parish newsletter as a way of improving communication within the parish. He printed its first parish directory. He established the annual meeting, pushed for the direct election of vestry members with fixed terms of service, and gave women the vote. He abolished pew renting in 1912 after a visitor was told she could not sit in a certain pew by a woman who owned it. The envelope pledge system dates from that period. He urged the vestry to hire the first curate, the Rev. William Wesley Daup, to help administer the growing parish. He encouraged women to take on more active roles in the parish and asked two to serve on the music committee when Fred Church was hired. He worked to make the church a more attractive place for socializing during the week, encouraging the creation of new social clubs and the formation of a Boy Scout troop. Funding for missionaries of the Episcopal Church continued to be one of his and the parish's favorite charities. Locally, he encouraged a group of Lebanese immigrants of Eastern Orthodox faith to join the church in the absence of a local Orthodox church.The outbreak of World War One prompted Averill to take a leadership role among local churches in the war effort. He promoted the work of the Red Cross in the parish, and under Mrs. Averill's leadership, teams of women were organized to meet daily in the Parish House, sewing bandages, blankets, and pillows, which they shipped to hospitals overseas. Fred Church's wife, Margaret, went off to war as a professional army nurse. When the war was winding down in 1919, Averill and the vestry made plans to build a new parish house with a gymnasium and better kitchen facilities. The new structure retained the original exterior.By the 1920s, Averill made some members of the parish angry by insisting that they kneel during the reading of the Epistle during the service. Some began to advocate for Father Wesley Daup, the former curate, to replace him and began storming out in the middle of the service as a way of protest. Plagued by two years of deficits, the vestry deliberated on a course of action. Averill offered his resignation, which was accepted. Some members of the diocese hinted that Averill might be elected as Bishop Coadjutor to the ailing Bishop White, but the election did not come, and instead he moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to become dean of its cathedral. He stayed there until 1928, when his health forced him to move to Phoenix, Arizona, where he became Canon to Trinity Cathedral there. He died there on 4 February 1948.