On October 22, 1833 at a conference held in Madison, Indiana, Enoch Wood was appointed to the Delphi Circuit which included a mission on the Iroquois and Pinkamink rivers. This was the first organized religious group in Jasper County and eventually grew to be what we now know as Trinity United Methodist Church. This settlement was established by George Culp and Thomas Randle. It was reinforced by Royal Hazelton, John G. Parkison and Henry Barkley, Jr.
In 1840 the name of the circuit was changed to Iroquois and in the following year, 1841, it was called Jasper Mission. In 1842 the name Rensselaer Circuit first appears. Parishioners met in the homes of settlers at first.
During the year 1849, a most successful camp-meeting was held near the falls. Many were converted and steps were taken for the building of a frame church and parsonage on the southeast corner of Cullen and Rutsen Streets. The timbers for both church and parsonage were cut and hewn by donated labor. The parsonage and church buildings were finished in 1850. The church was 37 feet by 57 feet. This church was used until January 26, 1890 and the parsonage until 1902.
In 1887 the brick church on Cullen and Angelica Streets was begun. The land was purchased from the Monnett family for $450, in those days quite a lot. The church building was finished and was dedicated by Bishop S.M. Merrill January 26, 1890. The building cost $7000, the last payments being made in 1895.
During the last half of the nineteenth century Methodism continued to grow with the country moving westward and establishing churches along the way. The establishment of the Methodist Church in Rensselaer and its popularity and growth were certainly a part of this general movement.
Revivalism became a prime interest to the church during this time, but by the end of the century this movement was spent and the “social gospel” came along.
During the early days of the church, when differences in opinion erupted in the church, divisions occurred. One such division occurred in 1822 when a group of earnest and godly persons, largely moved by an insistence on lay representation, separated and became the Methodist Protestant Church. Trinity was a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Yet, the Methodist Protestant Church was active in Jasper County and in 1866, the Rev. Helenor Alter Draper Davisson was ordained into the church. It has been confirmed that Helenor was the first woman ordained into the whole of the United Methodist Church in the United States. We will celebrate her ordination August 24, 2014.
In 1844 there was another division, the cause being construed by some as the question of slavery, but by others as a constitutional issue over the powers of the General Conference versus the episcopacy. This church assumed the name of Methodist Episcopal Church South. These divisions remained until May 10, 1939 when the Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church united to become the Methodist Church.
While the Methodist Episcopal Church was establishing itself there were two other groups working with the German-speaking population of the country. The United Brethren in Christ group was established in Ohio where a conference was organized in 1810. In 1816 at the first General Conference of this group, The Evangelical association was formed. These two suffered a division in 1891, but by 1922 The Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church were re-united under the name of The Evangelical Church. In 1946 The Church of the United Brethren in Christ and The Evangelical Church became the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Brethren movement was also active in Jasper County, but was not a part of Trinity’s history.
In 1968, The United Methodist church was established uniting The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church brings together two streams of spiritual life with similar emphases. The Rensselaer Trinity Church became part of the North Indiana Conference and officially added “United” to its name to become Trinity United Methodist Church.
In 1900, there was a parsonage built next to the church on Cullen Street. Up until the middle 1890’s we find the pastorate lasting only one year except for rare instances. From 1893 until the mid 1970’s, we find the pastorates lasting at least three years and one, that of Rev. H. Earl Moore, lasting from 1940 to 1950. Since then the tenure of pastors has increased.
There was no running water in the church so in 1911 (date of cornerstone) the church was extensively remodeled. A choir loft, the overflow room, and a room now known as Tobias lounge on the sanctuary floor were added. A basement was dug out underneath the sanctuary to provide additional Sunday school classrooms, a fellowship hall, bathrooms, a kitchen and a coal furnace. The seating in the sanctuary was changed from center aisle to the semi-circular arrangement we have today. The front door was moved and a bell tower with a bell with a date of 1853 were added. The bell was a George Coffin bell from the Buckeye Bell Foundry and is about 24 inches in diameter and weighs about 300 pounds.
In 1908, Cordelia P. Monnett made a bequest of grounds and original buildings to the deaconesses of the Methodist Episcopal Church. For two years these buildings were maintained as a home. In 1910, as the need for a Protestant Boarding School for girls arose, Monnett School was organized as an elementary school, grades one through eight. The school continued at least until the 1950’s and many of the girls attended worship and other activities at Trinity.
There was space in the remodeling so in 1915 a W.W. Kimball (out of Chicago) pipe organ was installed. This was a gift from Mr. George M. Hasmer who lived in a hotel in Rensselaer, but had a farm in Hanging Grove Township. The organ was dedicated on May 16, 1915. There was a fire in 1922 and “holy smokes” reached the organ, but it quickly recovered. In 1974 it became necessary to replace the console and this was done without disturbing the rest of the organ. After that the leathers needed replacing so in June of 1997 the blower was replaced and the organ was rebuilt with all new leathers. This organ is considered to be an exceptionally fine and versatile instrument. We celebrated 90 years of service and will celebrate 100 years in the year 2015.
In 1947, a small rural church to the north of Rensselaer was closed. This church, known as the Rosebud Church, voted to give the money from the sale of the church to the Rensselaer Trinity and in 1958 the fellowship hall in the basement of the old part of the church was redecorated and named the Rosebud Room. The Rosebud Church was part of the Helenor history.
During the time frame 1953 to 1956, building plans were made and a fund raising campaign was launched to add a two-story Christian Education Building consisting of more Sunday School rooms, a chapel, a church office, and a large fellowship hall and kitchen in the basement. The cornerstone was set in 1956. The building was completed in 1958 and Bishop Richard C. Raines conducted the Consecration Service on April 27, 1958.
In 1956, the dedication of the Schulmerich chimes in memory of Emaline Randle Makeever were donated by her daughter Ruth Pool. Those chimes lasted 49 years. In October, 2006, the Chime Master Millennium Carillon, Gold Edition was installed and is shared with our community daily.
In 1963 we acquired the lot on Cullen Street now used for parking. In 2009 we were offered the Donnelly property just to the east of the church. By unanimous vote, we agreed to purchase that property and house. The house was torn down and the property became a second parking lot by 2013.
In 1969 it was decided that the parsonage was no longer suitable to house a minister and his family and a very modern home, the Ralph Pennington house on Washington Street, was purchased. The old parsonage was for a time rented to nine Capuchin monks who were completing their baccalaureate degrees at Saint Joseph’s College. This and the fact that a priest from the college and their glee club participated in our Lenten services for several years would attest to the strong ecumenical feeling in Rensselaer at that time. The church pastors have usually been involved in the Rensselaer Ministerial Association so our church has tried hard to be a servant to our community as we have a goal of making disciples for Jesus Christ.
Five octaves of hand bells were given to the church in memory of Sabina Iliff in 1976 and the eternal flame was dedicated in memory of Rev. Clyde Bruce. We have had several hand bell choirs and have one still today.
In the winter of 1978-1979 the community was deluged with a heavy snowstorm, making travel on the highways impossible. The church organized a team of rescuers with their snowmobiles to bring stranded motorists to the warmth of the church. Blankets, towels and food were brought in and we housed people for three days and even a boa constrictor named Fred.
Fans were installed in the sanctuary in 1982 and hearing aids were donated by Jo Haniford in memory of her parents, Ray and Gladys Bundy. That same year, the church raised $10,000 to purchase an airplane engine for the mission in Zaire. In 1985, two country churches were closed and Barkley and McCoysburg congregations joined the Trinity congregation. The Barkley Methodist Church was started in 1885 and the McCoysburg Methodist Church was started in 1906. In planning for the 2008 celebration of 175 years for Trinity, we celebrated Barkley’s heritage in 2005 and then McCoysburg’s in 2006.
In 1985, an elevator was installed from the basement to the first floor of the educational building. A new replacement elevator was installed in 2006.
In 1990 we were able to acquire the property immediately south of the church. The apartments on the property were rented for a few years, but have now been torn down. The old parsonage is also gone and we have a large lawn south of the church.
In 1991, we decided to acquire a second parsonage and hire an associate pastor to provide administrative and clerical support for our church programs. We settled on a house in Sherwood Forest. We had a second pastor for a few years, but at the present time, we have one pastor. The Sherwood Forest house has been sold.
In 1992 the church received a gift of an 80-acre farm. In that same year, the sanctuary was air conditioned. In 1996 we received a new grand piano as a gift and it continues to be used in the sanctuary.
In 2002 it was determined that the chapel in the education building was used mostly as a Sunday School classroom so the pews were removed and tables and chairs were brought in. The pews were given back to their donors or given away. The organ (not functioning), was replaced with the piano from the McCoysburg Church.
The present choir was started by Susan Gwin who also became the organist in 1915 and served for thirty years. Dartball was started by Russell Hadley and has continued off and on. Lawrence Brenneman spearheaded the Endowment Fund Program. More recently we have had a Mom’s Morning Out program for a couple of years and presently have a preschool. We have been a staunch supporter of the local food pantry both with monetary donations and helping pass out food. We have a Wednesday evening program for all ages, starting with a meal. We have Vacation Bible School, a Holiness and Purity Retreat, United Methodist Women, Senior High mission trips, missionaries we support, a blanket ministry and dinners of all kinds as a sampling of some of our activities.
Trinity Methodist Church celebrated 100 years 1933 with the celebration lasting a whole month, 150 years in 1983, and 175 years in 2008 with Barkley, McCoysburg and the organ celebrations leading up to October, 2008. We trust that God will allow us to serve Him and our community for the next 175 years.
*Much of this history was written from the notes and writings of Beulah Arnott, our Jasper County Historian and Trinity Historian for many years.