There have been no less than four prior attempts to detail the history of Trinity
Episcopal Church, Pawtuxet Village. The first was eye witness accounting from Miss Julia Burge in 1897, less than fifteen years after the founding of Trinity Chapel. An anonymous version was compiled in 1936, Adelyn Thurber updated a version in the 1950’s, and Malcolm Hinchliffe penned another one in 1983 to celebrate the 100th anniversary.
Each version is more of a telling of the people involved, projects completed, and events that occurred. But the real history of a church is reflected in the people involved, the religious leaders, and the events of the times. Early in 1883, Miss Julia Burge came to live with her brother, Dr. Burge in Pawtuxet Village. Their father was the Reverend Lemuel Burge, the one-time Rector of St. Paul’s, Wickford. Noting that the only church in the area was Pawtuxet Baptist Church, she immediately set out to awaken the resident Episcopalians in the area to create an opportunity to worship in this historic village.
After soliciting all of Pawtuxet and the adjacent areas, the sum of $400 had been collected and in July 1883, the Reverend E. A. Bradley of Grace Church presided over the birth of the church in Pawtuxet. Dr. Bradley conducted the first service in the home of Dr. Burge.
The first regular Sunday service with hymnals and music was held on August 12, 1883 in the home of Mr. John Austin at the corner of Fort and Ocean Avenues. The Reverend Samuel Webb of Grace Church officiated on Sunday and held a midweek Bible study in the Warwick Police Station on Main Street near Fair Street.
A hall on Sheldon Street was then purchased for use as a permanent structure and Trinity Chapel was open. It is assumed that Trinity was adopted as the name due to the fact that Dr. Bradley originally hailed from Trinity Church, Wall Street.
Over the next several years, Trinity was served by a number of priests who were also stationed at another church. But in 1909, the Reverend J. Hugo Klaren was called to be the full time Rector. He began his service appropriately on Easter Day. Mr. Klaren began a period of major growth for Trinity. Able and ambitious, he convinced the members of the parish to not build on the site of the Guild Hall but instead at the site of our present church.
He challenged the parish that if they raised $5,000, he would raise and additional $5,000. And to further push the parish, he engaged noted church architect Norman Isham to design the beautiful Gothic building we enjoy today.
He is also credited with restoration work on the Stephen Hopkins House, the
Redwood Library, Trinity Episcopal Church, Newport, Old Colony House, and the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in North Kingstown. For nearly 20 years he was the Director of the Department of Architecture for the Rhode Island School of Design.
He set about to create a beautiful church building. Completed in 1910, it was
consecrated by Bishop McVickar on the same day that he laid the cornerstone at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Edgewood. But Trinity would soon have trouble. Mr. Klaren claimed that the parish owed him several thousand dollars but the claim was denied by the Vestry. He soon departed.
He was followed by The Reverend Mr. Worthington, and then in 1915 by The
Reverend John H. Robinette. Mr. Robinette cleared up the debt owed to Mr. Klaren, and led the parish to purchase the land at 143 Ocean Avenue. But his tenure was interrupted by the rectorship of The Reverend William Jordan. But Mr. Robinette would return to Trinity after a six year absence.
In 1925, Trinity would obtain full parish status from the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, ending 42 years as a mission church. The Great Depression and World War II would takes their tolls on the new parish. Low attendance, little money, and overall malaise had set in. However, the parish continued to excel, deciding to purchase the adjacent Masonic lodge property for use as a parish hall.
For the next two years, the parish worked feverishly to renovate the building when tragedy struck and the parish hall burned to the ground. Insurance proceeds helped pay for the current parish hall. Mr. Robinette would then retire and a call went to the Reverend William Hicks, who stayed only a short two years.
The Reverend Frank J. Landolt arrived with his wife Helen, two children, and his
father-in-law. Prior to his arrival, the parish would purchase a Rectory on Shaw
Avenue. Under his leadership, Trinity began to grow again. The parish hall was
finished, educational building constructed, and the establishment of Happy Hollow Nursery School. He would accept a call to a parish in Massachusetts in 1960.
An interim call was filled by Reverend Mr. Dowling. In 1960, the parish called the Reverend Harrington M. Gordon, Jr. from St. Mark’s, Warren to become the new Rector. The young priest, with a growing family, immediately changed the focus to worship and liurgy. He was not referred to as The Reverend Mr. Gordon but instead of as Father Gordon.
Thus, a new era of stewardship of Trinity had begun. During his tenure, Trinity would add to the clerical staff with the hiring of The Reverend Elliot B. Campbell as an Assistant Rector, the creation of an Endowment Fund, the installation of carillon bells, the creation of an annual bazaar, better integration with the Diocese, construction of the storage room, the celebration of the 50th anniversary as a parish, and the election of women to the Vestry.
Two items of note: the annual bazar was a two day affair with a dinner, a silver tea, program book, and lots of opportunities for people to purchase new and used items. All of the proceeds from the annual bazaar was used as charitable outreach into the community.
The second was the integration of Trinity into the activities and ministries of the Diocese. Father Gordon was especially fond of the Episcopal Conference Center in Pascoag and the Episcopal Charities Fund. Trinity would be intertwined with both entities for decades. Pamela Salisbury Lucey, Susan
Halvarson, Rick Butler, and others would serve ECC for years. W. Raymond Costello, Jeanne H. Knowles, Scott Avedisian, and Nancy Dorsey would serve Episcopal Charities for years. Dr. Karl Holst served the Diocese in creating lay Eucharistic minister training.
But, as with all things, not everyone would be happy during this period of time.
Although Trinity would begin electing women to the Vestry in 1969, women would not get ordained to the priesthood until General Convention approved in the 1970’s. That, coupled with the new Book of Common Prayer and new Hymnal would leave many feeling disconnected to the church. At Trinity, Father Gordon would divorce his wife and several prominent families, including wardens and Vestry members would leave Trinity for other parishes.
In 1983, a gala celebration was held at mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish.
In 1994, Father Gordon announced his retirement. Father Alan Swain was appointed to serve in an interim role while the parish moved forward with a search process for a new Rector.
This was a time of change for the whole diocese. At the same time that Father Gordon announced his retirement, Bishop George N. Hunt, III announced his intent to retire and he returned to California. The Reverend P. Wayne Runner was called to be the Rector of Trinity in 1996, the same year that The Right Reverend Geralyn Wolf would be elected as the 12th Bishop
of Rhode Island. There was considerable excitement that the diocese had elected a woman Bishop and that she was born in the Jewish faith.
At Trinity, the church was struck by lightning on June 22, 1997. Fast responding firefighters from the cities of Cranston and Warwick saved as much of the building as possible. Once again, Trinity would rebuild. In fact, industrious parishioners salvaged the organ pipes from the dumpster, painted them, and sold them to raise funds for renovations.
There was a tremendous excitement about the renovations but once again Trinity would suffer from internal issues. Although Father Runner stay at Trinity for 14 years, those years were not smooth. Soon the Vestry and Father Runner would have a falling out, some parishioners would leave, and Bishop Wolf would send the Reverend Marsue Harris to serve as an Interim.
Marsue, as she chose to be known, presided over Trinity for more than five years. She held people’s hands, listened to their concerns, expressed regret for the way they felt they had been treated, and began a process of holding Family Meetings as a way to confront issues facing Trinity. Whether facing the rumor of the week or General Convention’s decision to allow for same sex marriages within the church, Trinity was on the road to a bright future.
During this time, Trinity celebrated its 125th anniversary. Amazingly, Donna Manchester and Scott Avedisian threw a party inside the sanctuary (Barbara Plumb paid to have all the pews moved out) that attracted more than 300 people. The following morning, church services were held sitting around tables in the sanctuary. In addition, Marsue gave approval to Vance Morgan to begin adult formation classes known as Living Stones and Bill Baddeley would start Monday evening contemplative prayer and meditation.
Marsue encouraged Trinity parishioners to remain active at the Diocesan level.
Margaret Thomas served on Diocesan Council, Bill Plumb served as President of The Standing Committee, Stephan Sloan on the Finance Committee, and Scott Avedisian served as President of The Standing Committee.
At the end of Marsue’s tenure, W. Nicholas Knisely was elected Bishop of the Diocese.
In 2015, Bishop Knisley would appoint The Reverend Mitchell Lindeman as the
Priest In Charge. With enthusiastic approval from the Vestry and the congregation, Mitch led Trinity to share space with Congregation Or Chadash, a Jewish congregation. Seder dinners, Hannukkah celebrations now peacefully co-exist with the traditional Sunday worship services.
In 2018, Trinity would elect its first female Senior Warden when Nancy Dorsey was unanimously elected to that role.