In 1868, just after the American Civil War, the parish of Holy Trinity was incorporated. The first church was located in Harlem on the prestigious corner of Fifth Avenue and 125th Street. At that time, the Anglican Church, in both England and the United States, was locked in a debate over whether Sunday worship should be “Low” or “High” church. Low church Anglicans sought simplicity and wanted to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism. Elaborate vestments, incense, bells, etc. were felt to be superfluous. High church advocates preferred the symbolism of the rites and rituals of Roman tradition. For more than a dozen years, the congregation flourished in Harlem as a “Low” Anglican parish. (The current congregation would generally call itself “Broad” church, embodying the best of both the “Low” and “High” traditions.)
In 1880, the church was destroyed by fire – but not the heart of the parish. The land on 125th Street was sold and a new church built on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 122nd Street. Though the parish was still “Low” church, the building was given an elaborate edifice. Unfortunately, another fire gutted the interior in 1925. The African-American population of Harlem was expanding at that time and white families, uncomfortable with the growing black population, were fleeing Harlem. The Vestry of Holy Trinity thought briefly of closing the church, selling the property, and donating the proceeds to the remaining white churches in Harlem — an idea vetoed by the rector and opposed by the bishop — but not for the forward-thinking or racially progressive reasons we might hope to read back into our history today. Instead, the parish took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the fire to sell and relocate further uptown.
In 1927, Holy Trinity agreed to merge with The Mission of the Redeemer in the Inwood neighborhood of northern Manhattan at Seaman Avenue and Isham Street. The simple wood frame chapel stood where the tennis courts of Inwood Hill Park are now located. Eventually the old Harlem church was sold and new land was purchased on the corner of Cumming Street and Seaman Avenue, one block from Dyckman (200th Street) and Broadway. Architect John Russell Pope was engaged to design a new building but in October 1929, the stock market crashed. Plans were amended and only the foundation of the sanctuary and the parish house were built. The upper story of the sanctuary and rectory were never constructed.
In the 1950’s, the parish had an estimated 300 members with events virtually every night of the week. The parish activities filled the lives of people in the neighborhood in the days before everyone had a television.
The Holy Trinity auditorium was alive with activities from Cub Scouts and the parish basketball team, to Women’s Auxiliary and various fundraisers. As the 1950’s ended, middle class families left the neighborhood and parish for the suburbs. Membership declined as did church attendance across the US. Over the years, this historic parish dwindled to a low of 8 members in 1986.
However, a tenacious membership survived, and we are rebounding. We come in all manner of size, age, shape, color, gender, etc. In short, we are as diverse as the Episcopal church herself! You are invited to worship with us. You’ll feel like you’re visiting an old country church right in the heart of urban Manhattan.
Last updated: June 6, 2016.