A Brief History of Trinity Church and its Buildings
Trinity Church stands in Concord, Massachusetts, a town settled by Puritans. For almost 200 years the one church in Concord (The First Parish) was supported with town funds and administered by town officials. In the early 19th century some members of First Parish, a Unitarian church, broke away to form the present Trinitarian Congregational Church paving the way for religious diversity in town.
The first recorded Episcopal service in Concord occurred in 1854 at the burial of an infant. Subsequently, a few newly arrived families who had experienced Episcopal worship in the larger cities began to meet for services in private homes. For almost 30 years a small group met, occasionally at first but later becoming more organized and inviting various clergy to officiate. In 1883 the Diocesan Board of Missions determined that there was enough support to establish an Episcopal church in Concord. A regular Missioner, the Reverend Edward A. Rand, was engaged to conduct services. The ladies of the Mission procured enough money from townspeople through donations and the proceeds from Concord’s first church fair to buy land for a church building. The land was subsequently purchased, and on Ascension Day in 1884 the cornerstone was laid at the present site on Elm Street. Bishop Benjamin Paddock consecrated the small neo-gothic chapel on January 3, 1885 and on May 16, 1886, Trinity Mission, having received approval of a constitution and by-laws in accordance with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and by act of the Standing Committee, became Trinity Parish. Many people of Concord supported the Episcopalians in building their church, including Concord notable Bronson Alcott, who not only donated money to the building fund but also observed the laying of the cornerstone from his barouche. Others, having maintained their Puritan roots, had difficulty accepting the new parish. In his 1885 book Houses and Owners in Concord, Judge John S. Keyes wrote, “next east is a small stone chapel built by the Episcopalians with the aid of Unitarian subscriptions. They have neither number, wealth, or position to support such a church. They had better have gone to some other place rather than to have brought here such a disturbing, proselytizing institution as no one wanted.”
Over the next 20 years four rectors led a growing flock that increasingly won over their fellow Concordians as shown in the following statement written in 1915 by Mr. Adams Tolman. “This church has evidently filled a want. The congregation has grown and its ministers have done fine service in the town.” Growth in the parish provided funds to modernize the building and on Christmas Eve in 1900 the church became lighted by electricity, relegating the old kerosene lamps to the basement. A motor, powered by water, operated the organ’s bellows (unfortunately) displacing the man who had previously hand pumped them. Five years later funds were raised to purchase a rectory that continued in use until it was torn down in 1965.
In 1907, the Reverend Smith Owen Dexter was called to accept a ministry that continued for 25 years. “A sweet and unworldly man,” Mr. Dexter was a social activist, extending his concern into Boston, where he demonstrated for clemency in the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and to Lowell where he led a march during the textile mill strikes. In addition, he hosted a conference for the Fellowship of Youth for Peace, a controversial group at variance with some more conservative local groups. Although his political leanings concerned the congregation, the vestry and parish stood by him with great affection. During his tenure, a parish house was added, a telephone installed and a new organ purchased. Mr. Dexter continued to serve Trinity through the First World War, although he was given a leave of absence to serve as a voluntary chaplain at Fort Devens in 1917. Mr. Dexter retired in 1932 due to failing health.
In the same year the Reverend Charles Russell Peck was called as rector. Under his ministry the parish continued to flourish to the point that more space was needed and in 1937 a Building Fund was established. Monies were raised through knitting projects, concerts, a lecture on the Washington Cathedral and one on stained glass, a play and the sale of the “Concord Cookbook.” In 1941 the chancel was deepened and refurnished, the organ moved to the south wall and the sacristy remodeled. The beautiful round window in the west wall, designed and created by renowned Boston glassmaker Wilbur H. Burnham, represents St. Francis. Mr. Peck resigned in 1946, having led the parish through the Second World War, the end of the Great Depression and rapid growth in both membership and the physical plant.
Later that year, the young, energetic Reverend Bradford Hastings was instituted as rector. Under his direction a parish survey was undertaken and the Commission system, still in use today, was organized to involve members in all aspects of parish ministry. The growth in the congregation and the involvement of the parishioners necessitated the hiring of a parish secretary. Seminarians were employed to assist with services on Sundays and the addition of two bays in the nave increased the worship space. Reverend Hastings resigned in 1951.
The next rector to lead Trinity was the Reverend William Clark. Through his leadership the parish gained a deep sense of commitment to the Ecumenical movement. Parish programs were extended and the church school and Christian education thrived. In 1960 an assistant minister was hired and a second rectory on River Street was purchased for his use. When Mr. Clark took a leave of absence to study in England, the retired Bishop Malcolm Endicott Peabody assumed his duties and together with his wife became an important part of the parish. Once again the congregation had outgrown the Church. Mr. Clark and Bishop Peabody supported and encouraged the parish in developing plans for a new building. The vestry appointed a Building Committee which hired Pietro Belluschi as the architect. To create space for the addition, the rectory on Elm Street was sold and moved to the corner of Wood and Main streets and a new rectory across Elm Street was purchased. The process of reaching parish consensus on the design of the building required courage, commitment and an invaluable gift of time. It resulted in a semi-modernistic building of simple lines attached to the existing structure. The extensive use of wood and rough stone was chosen to harmonize with the original stone church. On entering, one is struck by its vaulted spaciousness and by Gyorgy Kepes’ glorious Chartres glass window representing the Trinity. The seating, which accommodates 650, was designed so that the congregation surrounds the altar on three sides. The choir pews and the organ are located behind the altar. The space beneath the church, known as the “undercroft,” houses several rooms for Sunday school classes or meetings as well as a central room used for large gatherings. During the building’s construction Mr. Clark submitted his resignation to accept a position with the World Council of Churches in Geneva leaving his assistant, the Reverend Mr. Graham, in charge. To honor Mr. Clark members of the congregation gave the lectern in the Main Church which is decorated with the Ecumenical symbol.
In 1962 the Reverend Nigel L. Andrews was called to be Trinity’s ninth Rector. He oversaw the building’s completion and its dedication on October 6, 1963 by Bishop Anson Phelps Stokes. The original church building, renamed “the chapel,” is used now for the smaller Sunday 8 o’clock and midweek services as well as for weddings and funerals.
Continuing the legacy begun by Mr. Hastings and supported by Mr. Clark and Bishop Peabody, Mr. Andrews encouraged the active participation of lay people in all areas of church life. In 1966 he appointed Eleanor Spinney, who had served as Director of Christian Education, to be Lay Assistant Minister. As a part of its outreach to youth, Trinity participated in an ecumenical effort by all of the Concord churches to establish a youth center. When no other space could be found, Trinity agreed to house a teen drop-in center called “The Place.” The controversy over the use of Trinity’s building for this purpose, the political turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s in the country and the liturgical changes in the National Church combined to decrease membership. While the trial liturgies, national revision of the Book of Common Prayer and the movement for the ordination of women were difficult issues for many parishioners to reconcile with their worship expectations, most tried to understand and to accept the changes. A few embraced the new liturgy and one generously donated the funds to purchase the revised Book of Common Prayer for both the Chapel and the Church.
In 1979 Mr. Andrews resigned and the Reverend Theodore Bowers became Interim Priest for two years. The first woman priest on Trinity’s staff, the Reverend Margaret Lee Ferry was hired as Assistant, later becoming Interim Priest-in-Charge until a new rector was called. The Vestry, seeing the trend toward offering a rector a housing allowance in lieu of a rectory, sold the rectory on Elm Street.
The Reverend David Marshall Barney was called from Daphne, Alabama and began his ministry on September 1, 1981. During his 20-year tenure, Mr. Barney helped the parish heal some of the divisions of the ’60s and ’70s with his gifts of teaching and preaching. Mr. Barney believed that everyone should have the opportunity of weekly Christian education and scheduled Sunday School for children and a Forum for adults between the two morning services. Following the mid-week Eucharist, he also held a Bible Study class. Children’s involvement at the 10 o’clock service had been limited to the Youth Choir’s anthems several times a year. Based on Mr. Barney’s assertion that children were not just the future but the present of the church, those eight years and older were encouraged to become acolytes, ushers and readers. Junior and senior high school students have been appointed to several committees over the years.
In the next 20 years the buildings and gardens changed to accommodate a growing and changing congregation. Through the efforts of many, a Memorial Garden was established with beautifully landscaped grounds. The Property Commission oversaw improvements in the physical plant, including renovations of the staff offices, the library, the kitchen, the parish hall and the undercroft. The parish worked tirelessly to find an acceptable solution to making the Church’s spaces accessible to all. In 2001 these efforts resulted in the installation of an elevator to reach all five levels of the facility and several ramps both inside and out so that everyone may participate in the parish’s worship and activities.
With Mr. Barney’s retirement in March of 2001 the parish entered into an interim period which provided the opportunity to step back and look at where it has come from, where it is now and where it wants to go in the years ahead. The answers to these questions were published in the 2002 Parish Profile.
On April 1, 2003, the Reverend Anthony F. Buquor began his ministry as Trinity’s 11th rector. His formal installation, called in the Book of Common Prayer “Celebration of a New Ministry,” was held on Trinity Sunday 2003. Tony Buquor spent over a decade of his rectorship helping the congregation to discern its needs in terms of a new parish facility to house its many ministries and to be better stewards of the environment. In May of 2015 the new Parish House was commissioned by Bishop Alan Gates, who encouraged the parish to “wear it out.” On Trinity Sunday 2016, Tony Buquor retired after 13 years.
After an interim period during which a search for a new rector was conducted, the Reverend Nancy J. Hagner from Princeton, New Jersey accepted the call to become Trinity’s first female rector. Her ministry began officially on December 5, 2017.
The spirit of that group of Episcopalians who built the original stone church lives on in this parish today because of the faithful love and committed stewardship of its clergy and laity throughout the past 135 years. A grateful parish looks forward with hope to continuing the commitment that they have exemplified.
Information on Trinity’s history is based on:
A 1936 history written by Fred A. Tower
A History of Trinity Church 1884-1962 by Marian B. Miller and Frederick A. Tower
A Parish Profile, Trinity Church, April 1980
The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Mark J. Duffy, Ed.