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In-Spiring: Celebrating 150 years of faith at Trinity Church

Updated 8:43 am, Sunday, December 9, 2012

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  • The iconic spire of Trinity Episcopal Church as seen rising above the parish complex on Pequot Avenue in the Southport section of town.  Fairfield CT 12/5/12 Photo: Meg Barone / Fairfield Citizen freelance
    The iconic spire of Trinity Episcopal Church as seen rising above the parish complex on Pequot Avenue in the Southport section of town. Fairfield CT 12/5/12 Photo: Meg Barone

 

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The Civil War was a turbulent time for the nation and the Episcopal Church, which also was fractured by the fighting. As states seceded from the Union and brother fought against brother in blue and gray, Episcopalians split along the Mason-Dixon Line, too.

In 1861, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America was established, but the northern church refused to recognize any separation or division, according to the website, www.episcopalchurch.org

As war raged, congregants of Trinity Episcopal Church in the seaport village of Southport were dealing with their own battle -- not man-made but waged by nature. On New Year's Day 1862, only six years after the parish had completed construction of its fourth house of worship -- a Gothic Revival-style wooden structure with "Moorish-looking pinnacles" at the corner of Pequot Avenue and Center Street -- an "odd, cyclonic gale" toppled the church's spire.

"The destruction of the church was complete. The east wall lay prone upon the ground. The west wall would also have fallen quite as far but for a venerable oak propping it up," visiting clergyman the Rev. David Short said in a historic document preserved by the church.

Almost a year later, on Dec. 11, 1862, the re-constructed Trinity Episcopal Church was consecrated, and its iconic spire once again served as a navigational guide to boats in nearby Southport Harbor "and souls alike," said the Rev. Nicholas T. Porter, the current rector of the parish.

This weekend, the church will kick off a sesquicentennial celebration of the building's consecration, and observances will continue for 15 months.

The 150th anniversary will begin with at 4 p.m. Saturday, with a reception/aperitif in the parish hall followed at 5 p.m. by a recital of organ master works of Bach, Buxtehude and Mendelssohn performed by Trinity's Music Director Ian Quinn. That concert will also mark the 40th anniversary of the church's Wilhelm Organ.

On Sunday, the official observance will begin at 10 a.m. with a Festal Eucharist, followed by a reception, where the Vestry will present an English-style tea by the Royal Tea Co. in the parish hall. The event will also feature Civil War re-enactors and a presentation of a history booklet compiled and written by parishioner David K. Sturges.

Both events will feature a performance by guest artist Ivan Rutherford, a former Fairfield resident who starred as Jean Valjean in the Broadway musical, "Les Miserables." Jill Walker, events coordinator for Trinity Episcopal Church, pointed out that Victor Hugo's novel, on which the musical is based, was published in 1862.

Two former Trinity choirmasters, Fred DeHaven and James Litton, will attend the festivities Sunday, as will many current and former parishioners, who will likely remark on the congregation's resiliency.

Since Trinity Episcopal Church was founded in 1725, the parish's houses of worship have suffered wind, water and fire damage. Through it all, the congregation has continued its spiritual guidance, religious and academic education, and community outreach, which includes co-founding St. Mark's Day Care Center in Bridgeport after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; establishing a health mission in Honduras; creating an educational outreach program in Haiti, and supporting a peace-making mission in Jerusalem.

"That's our New England spirit and faith. Despite all the obstacles and the challenges that God put in front of us we're tough," Michael Banten, the church's junior warden, told the Fairfield Citizen. Banten said Trinity will bounce back from its most recent setback -- severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy in October that temporarily displaced the nursery school and ministry programs. Remediation efforts alone will cost $168,000, church leaders said.

Banten said Trinity parish is one month in to a combined annual appeal and capital campaign that has as its theme "Faithful to our legacy, focused on our future."

The goal is to raise $2.5 million over a three-year period. In the first month, Banten said the church raised $900,000. The funding will be used to further Trinity's community outreach programs, establish an endowment for the preservation of the church, and to open a kindergarten through fifth-grade day school within the existing church compound.

"(Hurricane) Sandy helped us and gave us more of a purpose," Banten said.

Trinity's 11th rector, the Rev. Edward Livingston Wells, had persuaded the parish to take on an educational role in the community and helped to raise $5,000 to construct a building that would serve as a chapel and school. It opened in 1873.

"We sheltered the dream of education for all God's children, starting Southport's first school," Porter said.

Almost a century later, long-time parishioner Jan Perry, who came to Trinity in 1951, encouraged church leaders to open a nursery school. "In 1962 or '63 we were bursting with children. We had a real baby boom. We didn't have room for a Sunday school. That's when we added this education building," Perry said.

The Trinity Parish Nursery School opened in 1965, and Porter was one of the first graduates of that school.

Despite Trinity Episcopal Church's "overwhelming obstacles" and "repeated misfortunes," as Sturges called them, early parishioners continued their moral leadership, education, and maintenance of their landmark church.

"We're honor bound to carry forward their heritage to meet our objectives and challenges today," Sturges said.

"Our sesquicentennial anniversary isn't just about maintenance endowments or classrooms; it's about building a solid foundation for this dream -- the dream of the Kingdom of God, so that it will proper for yet another 150 years, a second sesquicentennial," Porter said.

Tickets for Saturday's concert are $25 per person, which includes hors d'oeuvres and refreshments following the concert. For those who plan to attend only the concert, admission is $15 per person. Admission for children is $10. Other ticket prices include $15 admission per person for groups of six or more. Those attending the event are encouraged to wear clothing of the late 1800s-era. The celebration will continue with "Outreach Month" in March and a music series in the spring.

For more information about Trinity Episcopal Church's sesquicentennial celebration, visit the website, www.trinitysouthport.org