History of the Church
In March 1847, an Episcopal missionary and six residents of the community of Lafayette met in a building near Washington and Laurel to worship, beginning the life of Trinity Church.
Within four years, Lafayette was annexed by New Orleans. Trinity was admitted to the Diocese of Louisiana and moved twice, worshipping for the first time in the basement of the unfinished building at Jackson and Plaquemines Street (Coliseum) on April 3, 1853.
The city's economic prosperity was devastated by yellow fever epidemics and Trinity was devastated by the deaths of the first Rector, Alexander Dobb, and his wife from yellow fever just four months after the first service.
Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana, became Rector in 1855 and served for the five years that saw great growth among Episcopal Churches throughout the state. The Civil War, in which Polk fought and was killed in battle, brought the prosperity to a halt. The absence of vestry records for eight months, indebtedness of $7,000 and only 120 members on the rolls were evidence of difficult days. However, by the time the church was consecrated on March 5, 1866, the congregation had grown to 532, the debt was eliminated, and the building needed to be enlarged.
By the 1870s, Trinity housed a girls' school, supported a small parish at Herculese (Rampart) and Euterpe Streets known as Trinity Chapel and made substantial changes to the building including the installation of the first stained glass window. The organ was installed in 1887, the same year "a colored Sunday school" was established near Philip and Liberty.
The end of the nineteenth century began an auspicious period of ministry in the community under the leadership of Beverly Warner. Best known for the establishment of Kingsley House, the second "settlement house" established in the United States, he led the parish to create a dispensary for the underprivileged and to operate a wood yard and lodging house in the backyard of the church. Dr. Warner personally led successful campaigns against saloons and horse racing in the city and instituted a community education effort about the cause of yellow fever. A parish newsletter was started in 1894 and has been in continuous publication since that time. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Trinity became the largest Episcopal church in the diocese with 1,200 members. With 2,300 members now, Trinity retains that distinction in a diocese that covers half of the state.
Within a year of Dr. Warner's death in 1910, Robert Coupland became Rector and continued the legacy of service to the church and community. In 1920, shortly after returning from voluntary service in the First World War, Dr. Coupland led the congregation to abolish pew rental, the largest source of income for the church, "because seats in the House of God should be free to all."
The depression, another catastrophic circumstance, led to the establishment of a soup kitchen serving over 60,000 meals during its existence. Other churches joined Trinity in offering food and services to people out of work.
The end of the Second World War saw dramatic changes in many American cities. New Orleans was no exception. The creation of suburbs and increased automobile travel meant that Trinity became more than a neighborhood church. Trinity, under the leadership of William Turner enlarged the plant, established Trinity School, and involved the lay leadership in establishing Trinity Educational Enrichment Program (TEEP) and the St. Thomas Health Clinic, both of which continue to serve the community today.
As the renewal movement in the Episcopal Church began to spread, Trinity, under the dynamic leadership of John Stone Jenkins, became a model for committed ministry among an involved laity in social justice issues, hospital visiting and small group experiences for church members. A large Wednesday night congregation was established. In the late 1970s, John Jenkins started DOC (Disciples of Christ), a small group experience. The program, now known as DOCC (Disciples of Christ in Community), has become a national program and is administered by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Outreach became an important focus as lay involvement accompanied the distribution of grants from the VML (Vincent Memorial Legacy). In 1975 Trinity called the first formal forum among city, educational, and church leaders to address Irish Channel needs. Other such meetings addressing other issues were to follow.
Hill Riddle became Rector in 1984. During his nineteen years as Rector, Trinity sustained its reputation for community leadership, exemplary involvement among the laity and innovation in addressing problems, especially among marginalized neighborhoods. Active participation in the Jeremiah Group (a community-based group of churches and synagogues), incorporation of neighborhood children in the life of the parish, prison ministry, the Trinity Counseling and Training Center (TCTC), educational support for public schools, and direct service ministry provides a partial list of outreach activities. Additional property was added to the campus and a successful capital campaign for church and school was conducted. A weekly concert schedule, which has become the highly acclaimed Trinity Artist Series, was established. A new organ was installed and the interior of the main worship space was redesigned for increased flexibility and beauty of the space.
When Hill Riddle retired in 2003, the congregation began its search for a new rector by examining its past and discerning the mission of Trinity for its members, its neighborhood and the city. Dabney Smith was called as Rector. Seven months after he came, hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, an event that is reshaping the present and the future of New Orleans. As with previous catastrophes in the city, the aftermath of Katrina and the subsequent flood involved suffering, struggle and self-examination. Fortunately, the church building was not severely damaged but many lives in the congregation and neighborhood were. The departure of Dabney Smith to become Bishop of Southwest Florida after a short tenure strengthened the resolve of the congregation to offer servant leadership to the congregation and the neighborhood. In December 2007, Henry L. Hudson was called to be the twenty-fifth Rector. In his remarks at the first annual meeting under his leadership, Henry Hudson observed that the past is a prelude to what we are called to be now and in the future. We will serve where we are called.