Black Christian History of Trinity’s Formative Years and Our Future

compiled by William Wright, Feb 20

     I thank God for this opportunity to share with you some historic nuggets about Trinity’s formative years, about its leaders, its Spiritual history, restoration of the sanctuary and most importantly, what I believe is Gods purposeful plan for Trinity’s future.

 

     If we pay attention to where we are, what we are witnessing is actually creating our history whether good or bad.  Knowing this should help us to acknowledge where we are headed, and we should then gain a perspective for the future.

Sometimes folks don’t like to be singled out, but I must mention the very impressive black history display of photos and narratives created by Nancy Scofield presented on the back wall which she calls “The Quilt.”  Would you please join me in a big applause and appreciation for Nancy’s thoughts and efforts in getting that done? I know Lee helped because I saw him bring in the posters.


    The well-known writer and historian Carter G. Woodson, wrote:

“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

Our black American History is rooted in the tradition of the Christian church…a place of refuge, peace and great hope. These are facts that reflect in Trinity’s formative years. Even when we say Trinity it represents a divine awareness of God the father God, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. That is the Trinity we know.

 

     Our history is much more significant than black people, men women and small children, working in unbearable bondage.  Our history is a slice of America’s existence, as America strived to build a sustainable economy for the privileged and free, mostly on the backs of enslaved men and women.

 

     When Fernandina was recognized as a Township in 1807, Fernandina was not the quaint historic City of Fernandina Beach as we know it today.  Life was hard and slavery was the way of life in America.   The Methodist Church came into being in Fernandina around 1822 when missionaries and itinerant preachers came to minister to slaves on the island.  Some gathered to preach in the wooden church house near this very location. 

In March 1861, the Civil War began between the states over the continuation of slavery.  A year later, in March 1862, the Rev. Mr. DeForest was officiating at the Methodist Church. A reporter in the area from a semiweekly newspaper in Boston Massachusetts, called the Advertiser wrote about Trinity church and I quote:

“Sunday services were held only at the Methodist church.  The congregation averages about 250 and are attended by a few white people. The colored people are constant and devout worshipers. The women come to church arrayed in turbans in which all the colors of the rainbow are represented and mingled.”  “Their singing is the congregational manner: the hymn is read two lines at the time by the minister. I regret to say that disappointed me.  Yet when the colored people sing their own songs and enthusiastic colored sisters lead, as I have heard on Sunday mornings, with a chorus of 200 male and female voices on the refrain, the effect is grand.”

And yet the Civil War continued. In January 1863, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was read to enslaved Africans here in Fernandina freeing all slaves from unlawful bondage.

It was then the first all-black regiment of former slaves were recruited to fight for the Union and engaged the confederates along the St. Marys River. The war ended two years later in May 1865.

 

Records show that less than 950 freed Africans resided on Amelia Island after the Civil War. That number is in stark contrast to the over 40,000 slaves traded along the coast of Georgia and Florida.

Most white farmers on Amelia Island evacuated leaving the island desperate and lawless. Freemen and women were taken back into slavery by pirates and illegal slave traders.

It’s not clear how the remaining freed men and women were somehow transitioned into the society or how land was made available to black people in Fernandina.

But on June 5, 1869, the State of Florida, Nassau County, recorded a land quit claim by a landowner and minister Joseph C. Emerson and his wife Celia Emerson for $100, who sold the land, lot 5, block 42, on which this sanctuary is constructed, to 7 member trustees of what was then known as the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. The deed read in part:

“To hold in trust, that said premises be held, used, maintained and disposed of as a place of Divine Worship for the use of its ministry and membership….”.

“The said title is conveyed free of any liens or encumbrances .. had been bought at a US tax sale of land unredeemed…. and deeded to Joseph C. Emerson, together with his wife Celia Emerson release all claims this 28th day of May 1869.”

That same year, the reverend January Felder, who appeared as witness to the signing of the original hand-written deed, began to lead the Trinity church in a wood frame building near this present location.

Nearly 69 years after establishment of the church, in 1822 the Rev. J.  Elliott directed the construction of the present red brick building in 1891 funded by freemen and women, working people that and it was completed around 1892.

One of the white members of Memorial United Methodist Church, a descendent of an original resident of the island recently mentioned to several of us Trinity men in passing of the amazing survival of the church. He recalled as a child how his father described how the Ku Klux Klan intimidated the members of the church back in the day.

Trinity Methodist church often served as many as 250 congregants both black and some whites attendees, and today, Trinity still embraces and encourages diversity in its congregation.

 

Our sanctuary is nearing 127 years old while the ministry is going into its 198th year.

You might find as I do that it is somewhat unsettling that there is very little to report about the sermons preached in this pulpit.

But we can be assured that the long list of missionaries, pastors, ministers, teachers, leaders and laypersons throughout the past and recent history of the church inspired the lives of hundreds, may be thousands over the nearly 198 years it has survived.    

God commissioned these red bricks and beautiful stained-glass windows to be a place of his divine worship, then and now.

Countless souls praised, prayed, taught, preached and lead many to Christ Jesus saving them from an oppressive society and saving their souls.

Still standing after 127 years of salt air and age, the church suffered great damage inside and out. God saw and opportunity and found resources to repair the worn down sanctuary.

 

On an occasional visit in 1997 by a white resident named Susan little, she sat with Fannie Mae Brown and noticed a hole in one of the stained-glass windows. Curious and interested in undertaking the efforts to make the repairs throughout the church, Susan encouraged and enlisted Fanny Brown, Alma Kelly and other church members to bring together Hundreds of individuals in a massive movement called Friends of Trinity with the direct support of our neighbor, Memorial United

 

Methodist Church and raised over $300,000 and with hundreds of free man-hours of labor.

William Bill Grace and his wife Gail Grace managed the resources and meetings associated with the massive restoration project for Trinity.  

 

God was in the plan and he still is.

 

Pastor Rev. Dr. William Eugene Pollen, the late husband of our member Sister Earnestine Pollen wrote greetings for the church’s 174th anniversary, Dr. Pollen wrote:

“I constantly thank God with each prayer and supplication for…. the fine officers and members of Trinity and the continued  zeal and desire that was exemplified by its founding fathers 174 years ago.”

And even now that sentiment is reflected on the dedicated and passionate members and anchors of this church for the continuation of this ministry.

Let me close with my thoughts of Gods purposeful plan for Trinity’s future.

Often times with success there may come regret.

 

Looking back on the success of the Friends of Trinity and the massive restoration project, we may have missed many opportunities to share our faith or increase our membership from the hundreds of people who came through Trinity and contributed to its restoration.

 

Beginning around 1997 I saw Lona Smith here many Sundays in her travel to Fernandina many summers from upstate NY where she lived.

She came to Trinity to worship. She may have experienced the flurry of activity during Trinity’s restoration. But she was never seriously encouraged to become a member of Trinity until a month ago, more than 20 years later.

 

David wrote,  in Psalm 127,

“ Unless the Lord built the house they labor in vain that build it.”

 

Thank God, Lona represents a “remnant of a remnant a small marker of our past, present and future” who would believe and take God’s purpose to heart.

God is doing a new thing at Trinity but all to prove his will be done for this present time and for his purpose.

 

Let us learn from our past assumptions and failures.  The history that we make going forward must include purposeful worship, teaching the gospel changing hearts and minds, that leads to intentional invitation an acceptance of discipleship.  

 

So what is our tradition that we must uphold?

To continue trusting in the Lord and seek to make disciples of all people.”

That must be our tradition for it has been our history.

 

William E. Wright, Sr. Chairman, Church Council