Places of worship are spaces that are often challenged by moments of turmoil. Trinity Episcopal Church is no exception. Though this congregation has a complicated and dramatic history, today it remains the oldest Episcopal church in Minnesota and the second oldest congregation in the Lake Minnetonka area.
“The building of Trinity parish was much more complicated than the story of the church on the hill and was not a fairy tale as people would like to believe. It entailed deceit, insubordination, and other acts which we normally associate as unbecoming religious people,” says Scott McGinnis, a local historian.
The story of the Trinity Episcopal chapel begins with the founding and settling of Minnetonka City, where a man named John Hamilton McKenzie built a log hotel. Two devout members of the Episcopal Church and the owners of the local sawmill, Charles A.F Morris and Charles S. Hargin, took the land, renamed the area Saint Albans and turned the hotel into the first Trinity chapel, which was given to Reverend Jacob Sterrill Chamberlain and Bishop Kemper.
“It was not until Trinity Sunday 1854, that [Chamberlain] held the first service,” McGinnis says.
After a fire destroyed the sawmill, the congregation decided the church needed to be moved into a more populated area, so in 1862-1863, Trinity Chapel was formed and consecrated in its current location in Excelsior.
The new chapel was built from local materials, like Shakopee lime, wood scraps, and sand and rocks from Lake Minnetonka, so the chapel is quite literally a piece of the land in the community.
“The wood scraps and sand were combined with the lime by Tallman W. (Stonewall) Moore, who formed the cement walls of Trinity Chapel,” McGinnis says. Visitors can still see these materials today.
This 1937 photograph shows the interior of the chapel.
The jumpform construction, which is a process of laying planks on top of a concrete mixture, is still standing to this day and provides a glimpse into the formation of the church. It managed to hold strong until the first renovation was done in 1886.
However, things began to take a negative turn when Chamberlain was accused of mismanagement, including inappropriately spending money and taking a salary from church fundraising. Chamberlain was driven out of the diocese and Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, Minnesota’s first bishop, took over.
“Trinity parish was simply a piece in a larger puzzle. Today it stands not only as a legacy of the pioneers who settled and created our little town of Excelsior but for the power struggle between bishop and clergy and their differing views on missions,” McGinnis says.
The Episcopal church as a whole focuses on Christianity as a movement that follows Jesus’ teachings by living compassionate lives filled with love for others, which they achieve through reconciliation and worship within the church.
The chapel was expanded several times in the 20th century, including a new hall, a kitchen, office and atrium.
The church focuses on outreach programs by offering small groups such as Bible studies, praying programs and garden groups. They also have a Trinity Care Team that makes soup and writes notes to be delivered to members in the community who are sick or injured. They also offer educational fellowships and workshops for youth and adults.