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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. William Naylor Webbe, rector of Trinity Fort Wayne
Rev. William Naylor Webbe, rector of Trinity Fort Wayne
William Naylor Webbe was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 17 December 1848, the son of the Rev. William Thomas Webbe, an English immigrant from Stourport, Worcestershire, and his wife Jane (Naylor). For thirty years the father had served as an assistant minister at St. Michael's Church on High Street in Brooklyn. William graduated from Columbia in 1870 and married Caroline Putnam Main, descended from an old Connecticut family that included Gen. Israel Putnam. In 1873 he received a Master of Arts from Columbia, attended General Theological Seminary, and was ordained to the priesthood. He began his career in Missouri, serving parishes in the towns of Mexico and Louisiana before assuming the rectorship of Grace Church in St. Louis. Remaining there less than a year, he moved to Evansville to become rector of St. Paul's Church, where he earned a reputation as a strong evangelist.
Arriving in Fort Wayne in 1879, Webbe began a series of Sunday evening sermons on popular topics that quickly captured the attention of the local newspaper editors. He preached with fire and emotion, his topics supported the growing Social Gospel movement. Horrified at the degree of alcoholism that existed in society, he preached on the topic, "How to Keep Our Young Men Out of Saloons" and would organize the Young Men's Guild as a means of providing wholesome entertainment for teens. He preached on a gamut of other topics, including "How to Convert Jews," "Infant Damnation in the Light of Scripture and Christianity," "How to Combine Worship and Work in Our Sunday Assemblies," "A Spiritualistic Seance with a Genuine Materialization," and "The Fear of Death and How to Be Delivered from It." He questioned whether sectarianism was a source of weakness or strength, invited a deaf clergyman to preach in sign language, and attempted to organize women's groups in the parish for a more missionary, rather than social, purpose. He won respect for his moderate views, saying that dancing quadrilles and attending theater performances were harmless amusements, and he even visited a local race track. He spoke to the Medical College about the relationship of religion to healing. When President James Garfield was assassinated, he advocated for civil service reform. He also became an outspoken advocate for women's suffrage.
In 1883, Webbe launched himself into the local political scene by advocating for the closure of saloons on Sunday and prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors. Saloons had proliferated across the city as had public intoxication. He condemned the city and its mayor, Charles Zollinger, for failing to enforce the city's liquor laws. Zollinger had earned a reputation in some quarters for nepotism and also received many brides from local saloon owners, many of whom were fellow Germans. Joining forces with the Rev. David Moffat, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, the two demanded that Zollinger answer the charges that he had been intentionally lax in his duties. Receiving the strong endorsement of the Daily Gazette, Zollinger at length relented and fired his chief of police, Ferdinand Meyers. A group of the mayor's supporters wrote an article that criticized the membership of the church for its wealth: "How easy it is to worship God from softly-cushioned seats." It also characterized Webbe as a "sharp, shrewd calculating man of the world rather than a gentleman of the cloth. His manner of speaking is pleasing and his delivery smooth and graceful... High-toned churches must do business in princely style, and Trinity is bound that its end of the string shall be kept in an elevated position."
To be sure, Webbe was seen by some as overly ambitious. When Bishop Joseph Talbot died, some perceived Webbe to be actively campaigning to be chosen as his successor, a charge he vehemently denied. Disputes with two other clergyman in the diocese, the Rev. John Jacob Faude of Plymouth and Benjamin F. Hutchins of Logansport over the possibility of being named Bishop Coadjutor essentially quashed any hope of being elected, as campaigning for the office was considered unseemly.
By the middle of the 1880s, Trinity's efforts to support western Episcopal missionaries had gained considerable support and pleased the new bishop, David Buel Knickerbacker. Webbe also enlarged the choir, expanding it to eight men and twelve boys. The Sunday School flourished. In 1888, he submitted his resignation in order to accept a pastorate at St. John's Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh.
In his later years, Webbe moved to Rochester and Lyons, New York, and finally took leadership of a church on Long Island. He died at Warwick, New York, on 8 September 1924.