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Photos courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church

Historic Havens: Trinity Episcopal Church

By Lori Draz

In this month when Passover and Easter, the two most significant religious holidays of the Judio-Christian faiths, are celebrated, Historic Havens visits Trinity Episcopal Church in Asbury Park. This massive, granite stone church with its enormous stained glass windows and cheery, cherry red front doors is a vibrant faith community that speaks of the church with great love and respect.

The first Episcopal services in Asbury Park were held in 1873 in the office of James A. Bradley, founder and benefactor of the city of Asbury Park. Bradley also donated the land for the first church. For the next year, tent services were held in what was called Library Square, until members built a church on the corner of Asbury and Grand Avenues, where the present church stands. The original church was a 30-by-60-foot wooden, Gothic-style structure which was consecrated in 1880. As Asbury Park and Trinity’s congregation grew, a new, larger church was needed. In 1910, the old church was moved to where the present office wing is now is located. Sadly, that building was lost to fire in 1938.

The cornerstone of the gorgeous church we see today was laid on Dec. 30, 1908. It took almost 10 years to pay off the church before it could be consecrated on June 15, 1919. Architect Clarence Brazer was only 27 years old when he designed the church. Brazer’s work also included the beautiful Capitol of Puerto Rico. His family, who worshipped there also, included the founders and publishers of the Asbury Park Press. He designed a “stone edifice in the best style” of English perpendicular Gothic, popular in England from 1350 to 1550. The building is filled with magnificent artistry. The stunning, antique English-style windows feature delicate limestone tracery and stained glass created by some the best artists of the United States, England and Germany. The terracotta tile in the sanctuary was created by artists at the Moravian Tile Works. When completed, the building – widely recognized as one of the great churches of New Jersey – cost $42,790. While that was a huge sum at the time, recreating the church today would cost an astronomical amount, but to the church, its real value is that is has been a sanctuary for thousands seeking God, and a beacon of outreach and hope to the people of Asbury Park and beyond.

Another jewel is the church’s Aeolian Skinner organ, considered one of the finest instruments in New Jersey. Worth multi-millions, it has its original ivory keys, three manuals (keyboards) plus pedal and 46 sets of pipes for a total of 3,047 pipes, all made by hand. It sits in an intricately carved wooden case visible in the front of the church. This glorious instrument is at the heart of a dynamic, growing music program under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Simpkin King, a noted conductor. Though it still plays beautifully, it is in need of several restorations.

Another charming item is the original collection basket in which the first offering was taken at a home on Lake Avenue. This gem was rescued from the Sunday School room years ago where it was used to hold crayons. In it is written the following: “In this basket, in the parlor, of Mr. Geo. A. Rumsey’s Cottage on Lake Avenue, the first collection was taken for Trinity Church, July 1875, Asbury Park New Jersey.” The note continues detailing the actual sermon.

Trinity Church today is led by the Rev. Chase Danford who warmly welcomes all to worship in this inclusive church and join in the many regularly scheduled activities, including a vibrant and growing Sunday School, art exhibits and concerts, a soup kitchen and food pantry, housing assistance, financial skills and job coaching, recovery and mental health support and Bible studies. The church can be booked for weddings and other ceremonies. TrinityNJ.com has archived sermons and a large list of events hosted by the church.

Rev. Chase shares, “At Trinity, we strive to share God’s unconditional love with our entire community through spirituality, social justice and the arts. Founded in 1875, our church is historic, and many of our traditions are timeless, but also we embrace an inclusive vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for today’s world.” The congregation includes those with and without children, people of all races (there is a Spanish-language Mass) and all LGBTQ+ people and allies. “As long as the people of this Church listen for that small voice of God’s love, our future is secure.”

Looking ahead, the church is working with an architect to address making the structure more accessible for all physical abilities. They sincerely invite your support and donations as they plan these upgrades as well as their large capital campaign in conjunction with the 150th parish anniversary.

Special thanks to Father Chase Danford, Lyndell O’Hara, Michael Parent and John Scherer for their help in putting this story together and for their overwhelming and passionate love of this treasured place.

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