Trinity Episcopal Church stands tall at 701 Washington St. in downtown Michigan City, clearly one of the oldest buildings on that stretch of Franklin Street as evidenced by the large cornerstone with three dates: 1836, 1858 and 1889. The large rusticated stone structure is not the first church. There were two others for that congregation.
The pioneer era church was built in 1836, several blocks away, at 414 Pine St. It was a simple wood structure with a bell tower. According to Joseph Scheff, whose wife, Tanya, is a priest there, it was the first church of any denomination in Michigan City.
The second church, also wooden, was built in 1858 in the English Gothic, or carpenter Gothic, style. The congregation had enough social stature and financial power to construct the second church on the main street of the town in the exact geographical center. The Romanesque Revival style limestone church constructed in 1889 sits on the same site.
When the northern section of Indiana was established as a separate diocese from the rest of the state, it was named the Diocese of Michigan City. The first Episcopal bishop of northern Indiana was Bishop John Hazen White.“This was the cathedral church,” Scheff said, until White moved the seat of the diocese to South Bend’s St. James Church, now St. James Cathedral. The diocese then became the Diocese of Northern Indiana.
The elaborate Trinity sanctuary itself shows it was once a cathedral. Look closely, and you’ll see small carvings of a bishop’s miter in the woodwork. The stained glass windows are original to when the church was built. There are even items still in use from the 1858 church, including the large brass cross that sits on the altar. However, it’s not the original look for the sanctuary. It was remodeled in the 1940s, '50s and '70s, closing up arches and changing paint colors.
“We are trying to undo some of the mistakes of the past, “ said Scheff.
The front door of the church that was blocked up has been restored with the original stained glass window, and an arch has been reopened, exposing the organ pipes.
Local railroad car industrialist John Barker was a member of Trinity in the 1800s. He constructed the mansion adjacent to the church for the bishop’s residence. Behind the crenelated facade are large rooms with high coffered and beamed ceilings. This structure now serves as the parish rectory. Even though the building was reduced in size by later remodeling, the rectory is still 3,000 square feet, Scheff said. The basement formerly served as the servants’ quarters.
Barker also gifted the first Barker Hall to the church as a parish school and meeting hall. This was honoring his three infant children, all of whom died prematurely. After the death of his first wife, Barker married the young woman who had come to teach in the Trinity school. The cloister that connected the bishop’s mansion with the church was dedicated in her name.
Barker and his second wife had one daughter, Catherine. In 1910, when she was just 14, she was orphaned. Catherine suddenly became one of the world’s wealthiest young heiresses. In 1929, Catherine continued the family patronage of Trinity with the gift of the current Barker Hall. This was a memorial to both her father and his children.
The second Barker Hall building was constructed in a romantic Renaissance Gothic style. The original church’s bell is now housed inside Barker Hall’s lobby. When built, the facility included a chapel, priest’s office, classrooms, and a sports area with lockers. Today, Trinity houses the largest food pantry serving Michigan City, a thrift shop, and a new youth and children’s “Angel Choir” program.
The most impressive part of the building is the grand second level multipurpose room called The Great Hall. Here is an elegant 4,000-square-foot oak paneled event space, lit by multi-tiered chandeliers and 20-foot-tall leaded glass windows. Besides its use for parish events, the space is available for rent. It is used for wedding receptions, community events, teen dances and concerts.
“The Great Hall even came equipped with a theater projection booth, and they used to show silent movies here,” Scheff said.
On First Fridays this fall, visitors will be able to see silent movies on the original silent movie screen, although the movies will be on DVD and won’t use the original projector.
The chimes from the Trinity Episcopal Church bell tower still ring out each Sunday.
“Serving Michigan City for over 180 years, we are a center of traditional worship. We are serving an increasing number of people who find meaning and mystical beauty in the ancient texts and rituals, “ said Scheff.
This includes incense, bells, chimes, Anglican chants and traditional hymns dating back to the earliest days of Christianity.
Services include 9 a.m. Sunday Holy Eucharist with organ music and choir, weekday Mass and frequent morning and evening prayer services using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer written in the days of Shakespeare.
The church now draws about 50 people on Sundays, and is growing.
“People seem to want the style of worship we offer and that they can’t find anywhere else,” said Scheff. “The seating capacity of Trinity is about 200. It’s going to take about a decade, but we are going to will fill these seats.”