Trinity Episcopal Church was established in 1919 as the “Church of the Advent”—a name selected because of its nature as a “coming church.” This phrase was meant to connote that the church was on the cusp of developing into a significant parish. It was formed to serve the then northern suburbs of Indianapolis. A modest parcel of land and vacant church building were purchased at 33rd and Meridian for the church’s home. In the 1930s, the interior of the church was remodeled to incorporate more traditionally Episcopal elements, including a rood screen.
After a period of considerable growth during the 1940’s, prominent parishioner Edith Whitehall Clowes, wife of Dr. G.H.A. Clowes, had a vision of an early Norman church standing on the property. Dr. and Mrs. Clowes traveled extensively through Norfolk and Suffolk, England, studying details of medieval churches still in use in those areas. Their research led to the construction of an authentic 13th century Norman church in the middle of a 20th century American city. This bold new building called for a distinctive name, and the parish renamed itself Trinity Episcopal Church, which also eliminated any confusion with the nearby headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventists. It was completed by 1952.
1950’s & 1960’s
The 1950s and 1960s were times of significant transition for the church. The surrounding neighborhood changed from a suburb into an inner-city neighborhood and experienced economic decline. The Reverend G. Ernest Lynch, Rector of Trinity, proposed the creation of a church day school patterned after English private day schools. St. Richard’s Episcopal School opened in September 1960 and was one of the first integrated schools in Indianapolis. The school’s strong commitment to diversity and the urban neighborhood led it to offer many scholarships for area children. St. Richard’s academic success and progressive attitude resulted in growth to more than 200 students by 1968. By 2005, St. Richard’s had achieved an independent 501(c)(3) status, even as its property remains shared with Trinity. By Trinity’s Centennial, St. Richard’s enrollment has exceeded 360 children, ages 3 to 8th grade.
In the 1970s, pharmaceutical pioneer Eli Lilly radically altered Trinity’s fortunes. Upon Mr. Lilly’s passing in 1977, Trinity received 132,000 shares of Eli Lilly and Company common stock valued at approximately $4 million. A life-long Episcopalian, Mr. Lilly’s generous gift was intended to ensure the continuation of Trinity’s urban ministry. Through sound investment and responsible stewardship, the invested funds of the church have grown to approximately $20 million and allowed the parish and school to expand its physical structures to over a city block.
1980‘s & 90’s
In the 1980s and 1990s, Trinity continued to push for diversity and inclusion, calling its first female clergy to serve the parish. The Reverend Nancy Ferriani was called to serve as the first female deacon in 1986, rising to become Senior Associate Rector. During this time, Rector Roger White participated in founding the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. Rector James B. Lemler then became the second President of CEEP. Father Lemler guided the organization’s growth to 25 endowed parishes. In 1995, Father Lemler called Dr. Michael Messina to be Director of Music at Trinity. Under his guidance, the music program has grown in scale, repertoire, and reputation. Dr. Messina’s gifts of musicality and mentorship have fostered a thriving choir and chorister program and also influenced multiple Organ Associates who have gone on to prominent positions in the wider Episcopal church.
During the 2000s, Trinity renewed and expanded its commitment to the neighborhood under the guidance of Rector Tom Kryder-Reid. In 2002, the Reverend Karen L. King was called to serve as the Associate Rector for Outreach. Under their leadership, the Trinity Outreach Center was established to provide below-market rental space to not-for-profits offering vital services to low-income individuals in our community, including the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and Mid-North Food Pantry, which was co-founded by Trinity with other neighborhood churches. In 2007, Mother King and parishioner Diana Creasser founded the Sunday Dinner, which continues to provide a hot meal to at least 100 neighbors every Sunday of the year. In 2008, Trinity entered into a partnership with Project Home Indy, which provides safe housing and other services for teen mothers and their children on our campus. Additionally, Trinity was among the first churches in the diocese to bless same-sex unions and, ultimately, same-sex weddings.
The 2010s have seen continuing innovation and incubation of programs and not-for-profits in the community, culminating in our Centennial year. In 2015 the vestry awarded the Trinity Childcare Committee a matching grant of $30,000 as seed money for a project to address the critical need for high-quality childcare in the broader community. St. Nicholas Early Learning was conceptualized and initiated by a group of dedicated and passionate Trinity Episcopal Church parishioners led by Jane Stephenson. In January 2016 SNEL became its own corporate entity and elected its first board of directors, now consisting of 15 members and an executive director. Also in 2016, Trinity resumed a refugee ministry with Exodus Refugee Indianapolis, through which parishioners have companioned two immigrant families in their transition to our city.
In July 2016, Trinity called its 12th Rector, the Reverend Julia E. Whitworth, the first female rector of the church. Under her guidance, Trinity continues to strengthen its foundation as a parish while heeding the call to serve its community at large. In 2017 a discernment committee proposed the idea, then served as incubator for, Trinity Haven, which will be a safe, welcoming, and family-like environment for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. In September 2018, Trinity’s Endowment Trustees and Vestry voted to assist Trinity Haven in purchasing its own home in our neighborhood, both with a match grant and significant loan. The church, individual parishioners, and St. Richard’s school have supported the project with over $250,000. In November of 2018, Trinity Haven received independent corporate status and, at diocesan convention, was voted to be a Cooperating Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis—the first new Cooperation Ministry of the diocese in two decades.
In January 2019 at the annual meeting, the Endowment Trustees presented The Trinity Episcopal Church Legacy Fund, a new investment policy called “A Faith- and Goals-Based Approach to Investment.” An investment strategy aligned with Episcopal values and contemporary innovations in fund management, this approach engages both concerns for future stability as well as Trinity’s mission to “accept, nourish and send” all in the name of Jesus Christ. At the end of one hundred years of ministry at the corner of 33rd and Meridian, Trinity remains a “coming church” — still growing, still seeking the will of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in all that we are called to do and to be in the century ahead.
To complete the celebration of the first 100 years of Trinity Episcopal Church, parishioner John Bridge wrote Be Thou My Vision: The Story of Trinity Episcopal Church, Indianapolis. Be Thou My Vision is a 290-page, high-quality paperback with over 100 illustrations. It is priced at $15.00 to make it as affordable as possible.