Trinity Episcopal congregation may be moving

Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church may make a leap of faith.

The leaders of the 150-year-old congregation are considering moving out of the 120-year-old building at 444 Pennsylvania Ave. W.

The aging building “is a very beautiful place to worship… but requires a lot of our resources, both financial and human,” the Rev. Matthew Scott said. “All of our money, all of our time, is going right back into the building.”

That is not what their focus should be, he said. “It’s raising that question, how do we become more vital? How do we claim this vital life in Christ that we’re offered?”

It’s not about not having enough money to keep up the church.

“We have financial resources,” Scott said. “We just don’t want to use them the way we’re using them right now.”

“Even if we had unlimited time and financial resources, I prefer we focus on feeding the hungry and helping the needy and not maintaining a building that no longer meets our community’s needs,” Trinity treasurer Diane Brant said.

“We want to do ministry… be a community that promotes spiritual growth,” Scott said. “We want to be a community that is a source for Christian healing in Warren.”

Much of the problem is a systemic one.

Attendance at Trinity dropped from about 200 per Sunday in the 1980s to about 100 in 2003 to 50 now, Scott said.

“In the 50s and 60s it would be culturally strange not to go to church,” he said. “Now, that’s actually the normal.”

It’s not a question of membership.

“Instead of coming four times a month, they’re coming three, two, maybe even one time a month,” Scott said. “That’s what they can do with their busy lives. The pressures of life are so much greater that having those big numbers on Sunday is so much more difficult.”

But, a smaller Sunday congregation does not mean a less devoted one.

“We’ve seen a radical change in the way people approach church,” he said. “Church membership now is much more about a desire to be close to God.”

So, rather than spending time, money, and effort so people can marvel at their beautiful facility, the members are willing to leave it.

“It’s brought us to a place where we really have to decide where we want to use our resources for pursuing ministry,” Scott said. “It’s made us ask a really crazy question. Maybe we need to leave our building in order to have that future.”

“Once we can start dedicating our people and our financial resources toward them I think we’re going to see some great ministries develop,” he said. “We already have some wonderful things we’re doing… we have the hot meals program that we’re now sharing with some other churches, we have a healing team that does Christian healing touch ministry, we want to grow that. All that’s possible if we can start to turn our resources more toward those ministries and less toward ‘how do we do the roof?'”

“I think this is an exciting time for Trinity,” leadership board member Denise Ely said. “If our discernment results in a relocation of our worship space this will be a major milestone in the history of our church.”

The search team hopes to have some ideas within a few months. “The aim is by summer we’ll have some recommendations for our leadership council to look at,” Scott said.

But, no timeline has been set for making decisions and the search team does not have specifications for an acceptable new location.

The team is going to look in Warren.

“We do want to hold onto our identity of being a city church,” Scott said. “We’re part of the Warren city. We want to be in the city.”

But, the leaders are not ruling anything out, including staying at 444 Pennsylvania Ave. W.

“The Holy Spirit can do some amazing things,” Scott said.

Even if the perfect opportunity comes up, there could be more challenges. The leaders can’t buy, sell or make major modifications to property without the approval of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

“I am humbled by the faith and courage that our congregation is displaying as we discuss new ideas and new ways to be a present witness for Christ,” Scott said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for a rebirth of Trinity and its mission,” leadership board member Connie Michell said. “So, with a nod to the past, we step boldly into the future, firm in our faith and trusting in God’s abiding love.”