When John Quintus Beckwith moved with his family from Wilmington to Lumberton, he found other Episcopalians but no Episcopal church, so he arranged meetings to discuss the possibility of beginning an Episcopal church in the area.
On Tuesday, June 12, 1912, nine men and women gathered in the Beckwiths’ home to meet with the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina’s bishop, Robert Strange, and the Rev. Archdeacon Thomas P. Noe to organize an Episcopal church in Lumberton. At that meeting the bishop appointed the first officers of the church, to be known thereafter as “Trinity Church.”
For several years, Noe came once a month on various days of the week and preached an Episcopal service in the Presbyterian church, whose congregation allowed the Episcopalians to use their facilities. Services were also held in parishioners’ homes.
Although it was a struggle for this small group of Episcopalians, they were determined to build a church. The building committee members arranged to purchase a lot on Chestnut Street between 10th and 13th streets, and in 1912 began construction of Trinity Church. The cost of the lot was $1,230.40. Two years later, the church was completed.
On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1915, Trinity Church was consecrated by the Rev. Thomas Darst, bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina. He was assisted by Noe and the Rev. John Moody. Trinity Church, with its dark oak furnishings, had a large potbellied stove, a reed organ and a seating capacity of 125. Mrs. Thomas A. McNeill played the organ.
There were many faithful priests who held this small, determined group together. Among the very early priests were: Noe, Moody, the Rev. Herbert A. Grantham, the Rev. James E. W. Cook, the Rev. Harvey A. Cox, the Rev. H. G. England, the Rev. R. C. Masterton, the Rev. Theodore Patrick, Jr., and the Rev. Thomas H. Wright. Patrick and Wright lived in Lumberton. Wright later became bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina.
When a priest could not come, Beckwith and Frank Hackett, who were lay readers, conducted the services. The first children baptized in Trinity Church were Frederick Holloway, son of Mr. and Mrs. E.R. Holloway, and Caro McNeill, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. McNeill. Evelina Beckwith was the first child confirmed in the newly organized church. She was confirmed by Bishop Robert Strange.
Sunday, Sept. 8, 1929, was a red-letter day at Trinity Church. That was when J.Q. Beckwith Jr. conducted services. He was later ordained an Episcopal Church deacon at a Trinity Church service on June 17, 1930.
No priest for 2 years
In September 1930, Wright arrived in Robeson County to serve the churches in Lumberton and Red Springs. When Wright resigned his pastorate in August 1931 to become an associate rector at the Episcopal Church in Chapel Hill, he was not replaced until the Rev. William Latta became priest in charge of Trinity and St. Andrews on the Sound in Wilmington on Aug. 1, 1933. Latta lived in Lumberton.
It was not long before the vestry of Trinity asked Darst to make Latta a full-time priest in charge of the Lumberton church. Darst granted the request and Latta served as priest from 1933 to 1935.
From 1935 to 1938 the church again was served by faithful priests and lay readers, including the Rev. Walter Raleigh Noe, who was executive secretary of the diocese. During these years Trinity grew with the help of some dedicated Episcopalians who came to live in town. Among them were: Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Rowe; Irene Rowe; Mr. and Mrs. John P. Stedman, son John Branch Stedman and daughter Victoria Earle Stedman; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Harley; Mrs. Ellis E. Page, Sr.; Mr. George Powell; Mrs. Graham McLean and daughters Betty and Jean; and Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Jackson and daughter Sara Alice.
In February 1938 the Rev. Bartholomew Fuller Huske became priest in charge of Trinity and Grace Church in Whiteville. In May, the parish petitioned for recognition as an independent parish in the Diocese of East Carolina. Under the leadership of Huske, Trinity Mission Church was admitted to the diocese as a self-supporting parish on May 11, 1938.
Huske leaves for WWII
When the United States entered World War II, Huske, who was a Naval reservist, was ordered to active duty as a Navy chaplain with the rank of lieutenant commander. Trinity was again without a rector. This meant that for the duration of the war, faithful and dedicated lay readers conducted services along with relief priests furnished by the diocese. Huske resigned as rector on Nov. 28, 1944. His resignation was accepted with disappointment and regret at the congregational meeting and the Christmas Eve service was cancelled because the church was without a rector.
When Darst, bishop of the diocese, came the first Sunday in March 1945 for his annual visit, he baptized Kenneth Irving Page (Kip), the son of Ellis E. Page, Jr. and Rebekah Morris Page; and confirmed Eunice Saunders, Ruth Saunders and Mrs. Ruth Saunders, wife of Frank H. Saunders.
The Rev. John H. Bonner Jr. was asked to come and conduct a mission at Trinity early in April 1945. After services on the last night of the mission, at a called meeting of the vestry, Beckwith traced the history of the church and ended with, “Mr. Bonner, we all would like very much for you to become our rector.” So after four years without a full-time minister, Bonner became the first resident rector of the parish on Jan. 1, 1946. He served until 1950.
During Bonner’s tenure, a parish house was planned and completed at a cost of $25,000. With auditorium seating for 200, a small stage, six smaller rooms and banquet facilities for 175, the parish house was intended not only for use by the congregation, but also as a building “available for use by civic clubs and other groups” from Lumberton. The 72-by-32-foot brick veneer parish house was dedicated on April 3, 1948. Even before the official dedication of the new parish house, the youth of Lumberton inaugurated it with a dance.
The Rev. Henry T. Egger was rector from 1950 to 1953 with the Rev. Robert T. Snell becoming rector in 1953. By November 1956 the rectory mortgage was retired.
In April 1959 a building committee was appointed to construct a new church, and in June 1959, Elizabeth B. Lee was engaged as architect. The last service in the white frame church was on Dec. 7, 1959. The church was then demolished.
During 1960 the regular church services were in the parish house. The stained-glass window from the old church was incorporated in the design of the new church and remains in the church today. Other parts of the old church that were recycled are the side doors facing Chestnut Street and two exterior lights flanking those doors.
The first service in the new church was on Dec. 11, 1960 and the church was dedicated Jan. 28, 1961. Among those responsible for the new church were: Chairman Richard F. Taylor; Mrs. J. C. Jackson; Mrs. Ellis E. Page, Jr.; John Stedman, former Chairman Bowen Ross; Mrs. Kenneth Harley; Mrs. John Stewman; T C. Phelps; Thad Wester and Frank Saunders. The church was consecrated at a special service in December 1963.
Snell retired in 1966 and was succeeded by the Rev. Frederick W. Reese, who served until 1972.
Pipe organ installed
Choirmaster and organist, George R. Walter, was on hand in 1980 when the 743-pipe Moller pipe organ was installed. The organ was given in memory of Dr. Allen Gray, a former parishioner, and was donated by his family. Construction to accommodate the organ and its pipes are the only major changes to the building since it was built.
Reese was succeeded by the Rev. John T. Russell, who in turn was succeeded by the Rev. J. Garland Teasley, Jr., who served from 1973 through December 1986.
A bright moment for Trinity came on Dec. 4, 1979, when Teasley announced to the vestry that Connie Dee Stroupe had applied for admission to Holy Orders. Consequently, Constance Delia Stroupe Belmore, daughter of this parish, was ordained as priest in 1984.
During this period, the parishioners at Trinity also replaced the old parish house with a new one. The new parish house was dedicated Sept. 11, 1977.
Parishioners of the church opened the Repeat Performance Thrift Shop in May 1982. The project was spearheaded by Mrs. David Alexander and Mrs.Garland Teasley. Mrs. Teasley managed the shop and was assisted by Pearl Mattson. The first proceeds from thrift shop operations went to the Meals On Wheels Program in December 1982. Mrs. Mattson went on to manage the shop for several years.
The thrift store continues to operate today on the downtown plaza in Lumberton. Proceeds are used to support charitable concerns throughout the city.
Allene Gane and Ethel Bachand were the first coordinators of a soup kitchen, which opened in February 1983. On Sept. 20 1983, the Governor’s Award was presented to the church for launching the soup kitchen. Kirk Mattson was instrumental in finding a location to continue the soup kitchen when it was moved from Trinity Parish to its present location on First Street as the Christian Care Center.
On Nov. 1 1987, parishioners celebrated the 75th anniversary of Trinity Church. A time capsule was created and put into the church vault to be opened during the Centennial Celebration in 2012. Afterward, Teasley accepted a post at a parish in Rhode Island.
The Rev. Russell Johnson served the church from April 1988 through May 1991. During his tenure, the columbarium was built and dedication ceremonies were held in early 1991. Just beyond the columbarium on the north side of the church are the Bridges-Pruett Memorial Garden and common grounds.
The Rev. Gary M. Noteboom became rector in August 1992 and served until his retirement in May 2OO1. The Rev. Grayson Carter served as priest in charge until the Rev. Roger Kappel became rector in 2OO3 after retiring as a military chaplain.
On Nov. 1, 1998, All Saints Day, Trinity Church held a heritage celebration. Mrs. “Pinky” Jackson led with a talk describing the church through the early to mid-30s and what a testing time that was for local Episcopalians. Horace Stacy explained the church’s budget and history, and Ruth Saunders offered her insights into the history of Trinity.
During Kappel’s time, parishioners have enjoyed a major renovation of the kitchen. The final debt for the kitchen upgrade was retired by a generous donation by Dr. Judi Losh.
Today Trinity Episcopal Church has 360 members. Current programs include: the Bill Alston Golf Tournament; the Harvest Festival; wine and cheese fellowships every month; a wine-tasting event in the summer; monthly pot lucks; Sunday breakfast provided by men’s breakfast teams throughout the fall, winter and spring; the Advent lunchtime music series and a church picnic in June.
Jeff Lambdin condensed the book “Trinity Episcopal Church – A Historic Review 1912-2012 ” into this article. The book is available for purchase at the church for $10. The church’s history committee, which researched the book, was composed of Lambdin, Eleanor Ebert, Ruth Saunders and Kenny Biggs. The church will celebrate its centennial the weekend of June 8, which will include an open house on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.