Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

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.


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