A Brief History of Trinity
Carefully following the Atlantic District model, in only 12 years Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, New York rose from a home meeting to owning a new permanent church building. The beginnings of Trinity were formed in 1913. Trinity’s first years were very productive. Trinity formally organized as a mission congregation on December 19, 1913. On February 12, 1914, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church requested a full-time Pastor dedicated solely to the congregation, marking her official place as a church in the Bronx. By 1915, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was legally incorporated. In those early years, she established a Building Fund and a group for women and youth. She also formed a constitution and began the use of the new English hymnals. “Perseverance” seemed to be a watchword as Trinity “wandered” around the neighborhood using 3 different borrowed sanctuaries. By the end of 1925, she had her own house of worship thanks to stubborn persistence, faithful stewardship, and loving fellowship. The “forward-looking” sense with which Trinity began would serve her well in the years to follow. The foundation was laid well. Soon, there would be neither time nor room to relax and coast.
Over the next twenty years, Trinity thrived. She was built upon a solid foundation and enjoyed an excellent and loyal pastor who remained through all the challenges and changes. Depression and World War II brought down many institutions but not Trinity; she seemed only to have strengthened. Immediately after the onset of economic depression, Trinity ceased its contributions to institutions of mercy (Old People’s Home, Orphanage, and Inner Mission) that had been routinely supported from the beginning. Still, soon afterward (early 1930’s) these contributions resumed while many others were added (Lutheran Hour, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, Valparaiso University, the Lutheran Centers at Army Camps, Wheat Ridge, and Lutheran Hospital). Throughout the War, Trinity vigorously supported its many members away from home and before the War’s end, Trinity assumed the responsibility for a Day School which promised to be a struggle in many ways. Though the Central School concept did not seem to be viable for Trinity, the congregation did not abandon the concept of a Day School. Still, by the end of the Second World War, Trinity was dealing with a major issue in the Bronx, New York. Major highway systems were being developed and the congregation’s building was standing directly on the proposed location of a major thoroughfare (later known as the Cross Bronx Expressway). For the church, it became all but certain that the property would be condemned for the “public domain right of way.” The proverbial “First Temple” of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was scheduled for destruction.
The new Cross Bronx Expressway would be constructed to run right through Trinity’s Powell Avenue address. Yet, with a rapidly expanding school, the “Temple Destruction” becomes a blessing, leading towards the building of a proper school. Nonetheless, it is not easy to acquire adequate land, raise funds, and cope with the government. After overcoming these obstacles, the church then needed to supervise architect and contractor work on the new building. Even under the stress of so many obstacles and surprises, there was no evidence of internal conflict. Until the near end of the project, it was planned to move the Powell Avenue church building the two blocks over to Watson Avenue. When it became clear that such a move was not feasible, Trinity settled on a temporary chapel in the school. Still, even in such an inadequate facility, the ministry thrives. Unfortunately, Pastor Sander, who was with Trinity almost from the very beginning, faltered and died. In the midst of this sadness, the two young successors of Trinity, Pastors Dinkel and Grossman, brought untold energy and enthusiasm to a crowd receptive to the religious revival of the post-war period. Both pastors perpetuated the confessional and liturgical heritage, deeply embedded in Trinity by Pastor Sander. The Church and School continued to thrive, side by side. By the mid 1960’s, Trinity was at the pinnacle of her life thus far.
In 1965, the congregation of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church made the bold decision to build a new church building, which would become Trinity’s current home. Following the decision to go forward with a new church structure, Trinity continued for the next number of years in the pattern established in the fifty years prior. She made critical advances in inter-Lutheran cooperation as well as general ecumenical engagement. The important Lutheran Book of Worship is approved by the congregation (but never purchased). Women are invited to assist in decisions and in the management of the church. Still, a gradual and barely perceptible decline began to set in for the congregation. Members were moving outside the Bronx at a regular pace and those who left were not replaced. Fewer people joined Trinity as church membership became less fashionable with secularization creeping into the culture. Pastor Grossman served with excellence while the new church was constructed. He stayed nine years, lending a stability that would not be replicated soon. In the next twenty-four years Trinity would have five pastors, some only serving in a part-time role. These Pastors served between four years (longest, 1970-74) and 6 months (shortest, 1989); The average stay was thirty-three months. During these transitional years of turmoil, some pastors expressed a sense of frustration or failure. For the congregation, vacancies lasted twenty months on average; the constant issuing of calls became tiring as it produced a result only rarely.
Through the 1970’s-80’s, the decline in membership hastened. At the same time, with so many vacancies, even church records became scant. By 1993, only 26 members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (25 communicants) can be found. The school produced a stream of income that only barely keeps the entire institution alive. Sadly, Trinity’s school is a ‘church school’ only in that it had a daily devotional in the church, as well as some religion classes. Even more frustrating, none of the faculty members or students participated in Trinity’s Sunday liturgy. Although it is never mentioned aloud, not a few expected that Trinity would soon decide that she must close. However, after eighty years the beautiful house of worship that is Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was not easily defeated.
Although many congregations in the area closed as the new millennium began, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church managed, by God’s grace, to remain open. Still, Trinity Lutheran School was forced to close as a result of the post-9/11 economic crisis. Fortunately, Trinity began working in conjunction with Lutheran Social Services of New York to provide space for the New LIFE School, an initiative aimed at middle school students with special emotional needs. After a brief stay on the Trinity campus, the New LIFE School moved to a newly updated Eagle Avenue facility in the Bronx. Still, Trinity was not discouraged and continued to work with LSSNY. Today, the Early LIFE Center is opened in the former school building, helping the community and engaging those in need with a special focus on early childhood education.
For the church, the ability to increase financial stability while continuing to serve the community was vital to the life of the congregation. Thanks to a number of factors, including the service of Pastor Hannah and the mission work of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church (Trinity’s sister congregation), Trinity did not falter in the midst of a turbulent period. Instead, a renewed focus allowed for the church to become freer in their pursuit of new goals, focused on engaging the community with the Gospel of hope. In May of 2011, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church called her 11th pastor, the Rev. Matthew Ryan Gonzalez. This call marked a new time of growth and excitement in the life of the congregation as Trinity began to engage the community.
Presently, the congregation has grown in number and, more importantly, continues to grow in faith. As the people of Trinity have been renewed as a “Family of Faith” in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, the members have helped to grow and strengthen the religious education programs, music opportunities, and evangelism opportunities designed to invite all people, both in the Bronx and beyond, so that they may receive and share God’s gifts. Trinity is now actively engaged in SIGHT (Student’s In God’s House at Trinity), the church’s religious education program. This includes Bible Study, Sunday School, Confirmation & Adult Catechesis programs, with people of all ages gathering together to learn about the incredible love of Jesus. All of these are a result of the wonderful education in the Word of God that the people have received. Without being educated in the Word of God, people do not have the Good News to share with others and may not see the need to be a part of a worshiping community. At 2125 Watson Avenue in the Bronx, New York, however, the faithful at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church are inspired to engage “the Bronx and beyond,” as TRINITY EXISTS TO RECEIVE AND SHARE GOD’S GIFTS— for 100 years and counting.