Our parish was founded as a Anglican missionary outpost in Puritan New England during the early 18th century. The first services were conducted around 1730 in the family homestead of the Rev. James Wetmore, an Anglican missionary. Priests from neighboring towns and itinerant missionaries later held services in rented space in the town house near Main and Washington Streets in Middletown, CT, not far from our current location.
Our parish was formally organized as Christ Church on Easter Monday, 1750, with 35 families as members. The first rector was the Rev. Ichabod Camp, who began conducting services as a lay reader before sailing to England to seek ordination. He returned as rector in 1752 after having been appointed a missionary in London by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
Holy Trinity’s founders and early benefactors were ship captains who prospered in the West Indies sea trade. Middletown’s location along the Connecticut River enabled it to thrive as an inland port.
Local hostility to the Church of England forced Christ Church to close its doors during the American Revolution. The building was vandalized, and the rector’s life was in danger at times. Use of the Book of Common Prayer was suspended because it contained prayers for the royal family. However, Holy Communion continued to be administered house to house during this difficult period.
Following the Revolutionary War, Connecticut clergymen dispatched one of their number, the Rev. Samuel Seabury of Groton, to England to be consecrated as bishop. Because of his refusal to swear allegiance to the English king, Seabury was eventually forced to seek consecration from bishops in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The first ordinations by this new American bishop were performed at our church in 1785.
Our first building was erected in 1755 on land donated by town fathers on South Green. This building served until 1834, when the parish moved to a new building at the corner of Broad and Court Streets in Middletown, now the Russell Library.
Holy Trinity’s current building on Main Street was built on land bequeathed to the church by Martha Mortimer Starr on the condition that the parish be renamed Church of the Holy Trinity. The building was completed in 1874, and a rectory was built behind it on Broad Street (now St. Luke’s Housing for the Elderly).
Berkeley Divinity School, founded in 1854, was located next door to our church on Main Street until its move to New Haven in 1928. It is now affiliated with Yale Divinity School.
Rapid growth of our parish after the Civil War led to the creation of mission churches in outlying Middletown neighborhoods: Christ Church in South Farms (1869), All Saints Mission on Straddle Hill (1877) and St. Andrews on Warwick Street (1895). These missions were eventually re-absorbed into the parent church after World War II.
At least nine bishops of the Episcopal Church were rectors, assistant rectors or workers in other capacities at Holy Trinity. Among them was Dr. Edward Campion Acheson, who served as rector from 1892 to 1915 and who went on to become bishop of Connecticut. His son, Dean Acheson, was U.S. Secretary of State in the Truman Administration.
Other prominent members of our parish include Raymond Baldwin, former Connecticut governor, U.S. senator and chief justice of the State Supreme Court; Wilbert Snow, former Connecticut governor and lieutenant governor; journalists Joseph and Stewart Alsop; and Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Joan Hedrick.
Holy Trinity has been closely involved in the life of the community for nearly three centuries. Middletown’s first public high school opened in the basement of our church in 1840, and local Head Start classes began there in the 1960s. Our parish house was turned over to Middlesex Hospital for use as an auxiliary unit during the deadly flu epidemic of 1918, and volunteers from our parish cooked meals for families in the community who were too ill to prepare their own food. Our facilities have been home to many community organizations in recent years, including the Oddfellows Playhouse for young actors. Currently we house AA and NA groups,are a site for the CRT’s Summer Lunch program, and the Warming Center (formerly Fabian’s Place). Looking ahead, we are working on creating Showers for the Homeless.
Lay people have played a prominent role in the ministry of the church from its inception. Services were frequently conducted by lay readers during the early years when ordained clergy were unavailable. The tradition continues today with the “team ministry” approach at Holy Trinity with lay members working closely with ordained clergy.