Trinity Church was founded in 1833 by a group of prominent citizens, including some with Southern connections. Warden Charles Steadman built a wooden church in the Greek style. The parish prospered and in 1870 the original structure was replaced by a stone Gothic-style church designed by Richard M. Upjohn. This building was enlarged in the early years of the 20th century with the lengthening of the nave, a larger chancel, a chapel adjacent to the north transept and a heightened tower.
During its first 80 years, Trinity had six rectors, one staying 48 years. It clearly was a different day, when a rector’s traditional functions in a small town centered on visiting parishioners, on baptizing, marrying, and burying, and on conducting Divine Service on Sundays. The Victorian era saw Trinity deviate from tradition in a notable way, reaching out to the community beyond its doors.
In 1850 a Gothic schoolhouse was built to serve as a Sunday School for parish children (itself an innovation), and at other times as a school for African-American children, whom the local schools did not serve. In the second half of the 19th century, Trinity founded several nearby missions, of which two survive: one is Trinity Church, Rocky Hill, a “family-size” parish north of Princeton and the other is St. Barnabas, Kendall Park, a larger parish northeast of Princeton, now surrounded by suburban housing built in the last 40 years.
In 1875, Trinity founded the St. Paul’s Society for students at Princeton University, where the number of Episcopalians had grown. Now called the Episcopal Church at Princeton University (ECP), it is supported by the William Alexander Procter Foundation. ECP has long had a full-time chaplain who conducts regular worship in the University Chapel, and holds student events at the Foundation’s Procter House adjacent to the campus.
Starting in 1879, Trinity, like many Episcopal parishes, participated in the Choral Revival in the Anglican Church, with its emphasis on vested choirs of men and boys trained by professional church musicians. Thus began a rigorous choir program, long one of the finest in the nation and now coeducational, which has thrived under a succession of gifted leaders.
Through the 1920s, ’30s, and early ’40s, Trinity slowly grew with the town. The growth of Princeton Township (surrounding the Borough) and today’s extensive suburbs were yet to come. During the “baby boom” of the late 1940s and the ’50s, Trinity experienced explosive growth in young families with children, with a burgeoning Sunday School (at one point claiming five hundred members). Through that period the parish ministry remained essentially traditional, with outreach a minor component and the rector and assisting clergy very much in charge. During the ’50s, a large parish hall (Pierce Hall), kitchen and meeting room were built to accommodate the growing demands for space.
With the 1960s, when eternal verities were called into question, mainline churches—Trinity included—began to shed their cultural and religious hegemony. The baby boomers were coming of age, and yesterday’s well-scrubbed Sunday School pupils were considered by some to be unruly youth, questioning authority and the relevance of traditional institutions like the church. For relevance, a basement coffee house, “The Catacombs” was opened. Trinity conducted some folk masses, and occasionally uproarious liturgical choices continued well into the 1970s.
The 1960s also witnessed a devastating fire (1963) and reconstruction in the church proper, as well as the beginning of two enduring outreach efforts: Trinity Counseling Service and All Saints’ Church.
All Saints’ , which was created in 1960 as a neighborhood church to serve the fast-growing eastern end of Princeton Township with its own vicar, was the brainchild of the Rev. Dr. John Vernon Butler, Rector from 1948-59. An attractive stone church with parish house was built, and under fine clergy and lay leadership it quickly became independent.
Dr. Butler, a strong leader, followed the Rev. Arthur Lee Kinsolving (1940-47), who had moved to New York City to St. James’s, Madison Avenue. Butler served 11 years, then became dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Under his leadership, Trinity grew to more or less its present size.
The Rev. Robert Spears saw Trinity through the fire and rebuilding in the mid-60s, and after seven years’ tenure became Bishop of Western Missouri.
The Rev. James Whittemore served from 1967-77, during which Trinity evolved into something like its modern form, with expanded lay leadership, liturgical renewal, a remodeled church, enlarged facilities, and a more diverse and welcoming congregation.
A long-awaited moment came when parishioner and clergy staff member the Rev. Daphne Hawkes was ordained to the priesthood at Trinity, the first woman priest in the Diocese of New Jersey. Whittemore left to head the Seamen’s Church Institute in New York City.
The Rev. John Crocker, Jr., came to Trinity in 1977 from the Episcopal chaplaincy at MIT and served until his retirement in 1989. His tenure included expanded outreach, consolidation of the many liturgical changes of the preceding years, and planning for needed facility improvements.
In 1991, The Ven. Leslie Smith, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Newark, began his tenure which was marked by the 21st Century Plan, a major fundraising effort that led to construction and renovation of parish buildings, as well as an outreach endowment. Service to the community was further expanded for temporarily homeless families. Retiring in mid-2006, he was Trinity’s third-longest serving rector.
The Rev. Paul Jeanes III was installed as the 15th rector of Trinity Church in October 2008. Trinity also celebrated its 175th anniversary throughout 2008 and 2009.