ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SANCTUARY ON WEST 100TH STREET: “A POWER FOR GOOD IN THIS CITY”
As German immigrants moved into the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the late 19th century, they wanted to build a church that would connect them to their spiritual and cultural roots as well as to be a source of strength and purpose in a new land. In the summer of 1888, a small group gathered and was formally incorporated.
For the first few years the congregation met in a storefront, but from its earliest days of struggle, Trinity showed a desire to respond to the needs of its wider community.
Our archives contain the following note: “Since there was no public school in this whole district and children roamed the streets at all hours we started a school there.” The pastor and organist shared teaching responsibilities in English and had Saturday sessions in German, the language of worship for 70 years.
Soon the congregation was eager to move into a more suitable space and set about raising money to purchase land and build. Our present sanctuary, in the French transitional gothic style, with beautiful stained glass windows, was dedicated in 1909. The church is blessed with soaring arches, marvelous acoustics and a newly-restored pipe organ. The architectural importance of the building has won it a place on the National Historic Register.
In the 1950’s, Trinity was the only building within 32 acres to survive the wrecking balls of Robert Moses. It took a ten-year struggle, but with passion and hard work, Trinity stood its ground. Nevertheless, maintaining a building has never been an end in itself. Trinity has always been about building community.
In the 1940’s German immigrants welcomed Latino immigrants and through most of the 50’s provided sanctuary space for a French-speaking Haitian congregation and a Chinese congregation.
As the needs of the neighborhood grew, the church opened its doors to scouting, job training, high school equivalency classes, day care, and a community Thanksgiving meal that continues to serve hundreds each year. Trinity was one of the first churches in the city to address the AIDS crisis, hosting a program that eventually became a multi-million dollar scatter-site housing system for persons with AIDS in East Harlem.
Today, our congregation, like our community, is vibrant and diverse. It is home to a growing congregation of over 200 members that worships in English, Spanish and sometimes German. Our first service each Sunday morning is Wee Worship, attracting families with very young children, a number of whom, like our founders, come from Germany. Trinity houses and runs an after-school program, a Latina support group and Trinity Place, a shelter for homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young adults.
Our building and sanctuary not only allow us to dedicate space to programs that serve and support our neighbors, but its beauty uplifts us in our lives and labors. We are presently engaged in a capital campaign to raise money for needed repairs to prepare our building for the text hundred years.
When one of Trinity’s first pastors, Dr. Ernst Brennecke, was installed in 1889, a guest preacher stated: “A large field to do good work for our Lutheran Church is before this new congregation and we feel confident that they will make rapid process and become a mighty power for good in this city. May their efforts bring fruit.”
More than a century later, Trinity continues to seek the Spirit’s direction to be a mighty power for good in this city. May our efforts bring fruit!