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The first 100 years, and a little bit more


Trinity Memorial celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1986. At that time, David Patterson compiled a brief chronological history of the parish: Trinity Memorial Church, Centennial Year, 1886-1986. Most of the material comes from minutes of Vestry meetings. As a result, the preface states, it deals perhaps too much with material things--with properties and buildings, with income and outgo, with gifts and bequests. It unfortunately neglects the warmth of Trinity's people, the countless anecdotes about them, and the local color that surrounds them.

Our history on these pages is excerpted from the Patterson Centennial Year booklet. We need to update the booklet to take us from 1986 to the present.

Beginning Years 1886-1916

Trinity Memorial Church began in 1886. Grover Cleveland was the president of the United States. The City of Binghamton, with a population of 35,000, was expanding and prosperous. Binghamton was a major cigar manufacturing center. Times were good.

The Episcopal Church had its beginning in Binghamton earlier in the century. In 1810 a local group, led by Daniel Nash, established “The Episcopal Church of Chenango and Union.” Not long after, a house of worship was erected on Washington Street and the name “Christ Church” was adopted. The beautiful stone edifice of Christ Church that we know today was erected in 1853.

To meet the needs of Episcopal communicants residing on the south side of the Susquehanna River, the Church of the Good Shepherd was organized in 1870 as a mission of Christ Church.

Some 13 years later, a group of members of Christ Church met informally to consider the feasibility of forming another new parish, this one to be on the west side of the Chenango River. Three years later, in 1886, the time seemed right for this new venture.

On March 6, 1886 a group of twelve men and seven women met at the home of John Ray Clarke, a prominent businessman. Records tell us that Clarke stated the object of the meeting, calling attention to the large field for church work on the west side of the Chenango River, the number of church people residing there, and the lack of church accommodations. Those present responded enthusiastically in favor of the proposed new parish and a lot for the church on the northeast corner of Main and Oak Streets was offered by John Ray Clarke and James K. Welden. This was the beginning of Trinity Memorial Church.

On March 18, 1886, twelve days after the meeting at which a new parish was proposed and a building lot on the corner of Main and Oak Streets was offered, the group met again. It was decided to call the Rev. Sydney H. Cooke of Camden, New York, to take charge of the parish at an annual salary of $1,000.

The rector of Christ Church, the mother parish, gave permission for another parish to be established on the west side of the Chenango River, within the limits of the parish of Christ Church.

It was also decided at this meeting to organize the new parish under the name of Trinity Church. It was reported that plans for a chapel were already in the process of being drawn up.

At the next meeting, architect T. I. Lacey’s plans for the new chapel were adopted and a committee was appointed to find a place in which service might be held until the chapel was completed. A vacant store was available, but it was decided to hold services at the home of Byron Marks until the chapel was completed.

The first service was held on May 2, 1886 at the Marks home on Main Street, where American Legion Post 80 now stands. Pews, formerly used at the congregational church, were purchased for $63.75. A Sterling Organ was purchased for $85. Members of the parish gave a pulpit and lectern as memorials, as well as other essential pieces of church equipment and furniture. With impending expenses, it became necessary to establish a budget and a plan to raise money.

On May 12, 1886 the parish signed a Certificate of Incorporation and the first Vestry was elected, The unanimous choice for a name of the organization was “The Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of Trinity Church, Binghamton, New York.” The Certificate of Incorporation was filed and recorded the next day—so May 13, 1886 may be said to be the official birth day of Trinity Church.

The first chapel was completed by Pentecost, 1886 and the first service was held in the new building on June 13, 1886 with the Rev. Cooke officiating. The following week, the first baptisms were held and the first marriage in the parish was celebrated a month later.

During the first year, Trinity grew and flourished. In February 1887, a class of 21 confirmands was presented to the bishop for confirmation. A lot adjacent to the church was purchased so the chapel could be enlarged. The budget for the first fiscal year was $1,858.78. In April 1887, the first church musician, Ernest Benjamin, was hired to lead the choir at a salary not to exceed $1.50 per week.

In the summer of 1887, the Rev. Cooke’s health began to fail. The church sorrowed over the untimely death of their first rector in March 1890; he died before the age of 40

The Rev. W. Henry Platt from Carbondale, Pennsylvania, was called to be Trinity’s second rector in May 1890. His salary was $1,500 plus rectory.

In August 1890, John Ray Clarke, one of the founding fathers of the parish died. Mr. Clarke had been the first Senior Warden of the church. James K. Welden was elected to fill Clarke’s term.

Mr. Platt died unexpectedly in the spring of 1893.

In September 1893, the third rector of Trinity Church was called. He was the Rev. James H. LaRoche of Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

In February 1894 a gift of $25,000 was received from Mrs. John Ray Clarke in memory of her husband, the first senior warden of the church, to be used for the building of a new church. It was at this time that the corporate name of the parish was changed from Trinity Church to Trinity Memorial Church.

The present church was moved from its original site to the lot north of it, to be used as a parish house. The basement for the new building was excavated in the fall of 1894. The cornerstone is dated 1895. By March 1896, the walls of the new building were ready to be plastered. Using the parish real estate as collateral, the Vestry authorized the borrowing of $5,000 for the completion of the church building.

A number of memorial gifts were made to complete and outfit the new church. Mrs. James K. Welden gave the beautiful window over the front entrance in memory of her husband, one of the founding fathers of the church, who died in January 1895.

Other memorial gifts included the lectern, pulpit, altar rails, alms basins, processional crosses, bishop’s and priest’s chairs, and litany and reading desks.

The proposed opening of the new building was June 3, 1897. By January 1898, the treasurer reported that the cost of the building program and organ came to $57,534.54, and the indebtedness was $21,300. A financial statement was presented and sent to 911 parish families, soliciting new pledges.

In July of 1903, the Rev. James H. LaRoche resigned because of failing health. Under the ten years of his leadership, Trinity Church had shown growth and diversification. The number of communicants had increased, and the construction of a fine new church edifice had been completed. The rectory had been enlarged and improved and parish activities had been augmented.

In October 1903, the Rev. A. Randolph B. Hegeman was called as Trinity's fourth rector. He had served at Holy Innocents Church, Albany.

He served for 14 years. He resigned in December 1917 upon his election as archdeacon of the diocese.

In 1916, preceding by a year the adoption of the New York State amendment giving women the right to vote, the Vestry of Trinity Church recommended permitting women to vote at any special or annual parish meeting. This was carried out in 1917 with the right of suffrage officially extended to the women of the parish, in accordance with state and diocesan law.

Growing Years, 1917-1943

The Rev. Wilson E. Tanner was called to be Trinity's fifth rector in February 1918.

It was in November of 1918 that Miss Flora Staps was engaged for one year to be organist and choir director. That one year extended into a long and happy association lasting 42 years. The first parish secretary, Miss Florence Cowan, was hired in June 1924 at a salary of $25 per week, plus carfare.

With the spring of 1926 came new ideas for improving church facilities. The possibility of purchasing a new rectory and enlarging the Parish House were discussed. After due consideration, it was decided that the present structures were adequate. However, it was recommended that an improvement fund established from voluntary gifts be provided for future expansion.

It was in 1928 that Phebe English Helfer, having just completed college, was asked by Dr. Tanner to take over the Junior Choir. Phebe, baptized in 1906, was a lifelong and much beloved member of the parish whose activities with Trinity spanned the terms of three rectors. Miss F. Mabel Hissey joined Trinity as parish secretary sometime in 1930, beginning over 30 years of devoted service. These two lifelong friends touched and blessed the lives of the entire parish.

During the Depression, Trinity operated on an ever decreasing budget. To save the cost of a replacement during their vacations, Dr. Tanner and the Rev. Walter Higley, rector of All Saints’, Johnson City (and later bishop of this diocese) conducted services in each other’s churches. By 1937, business conditions had improved and finances were stronger. In 1939 there were numerous new pledges to support the church. With 350 children regularly attending Sunday School, it was recognized that there was a need for enlarged facilities in the near future.

Dr. Tanner died unexpectedly on January 19, 1943. The Vestry minutes for February 2 record: “…We bend the knee in humble tribute to our pastor and our friend, to the cross he followed, the Christian life he lived and the Christ who inspired his life and whom he so ably served.” He was Trinity’s rector for 25 years.

War/Post-War Years, 1943-53

In August 1943, the Rev. Percy F. Rex became the sixth rector of Trinity Church. The Hartwell Morse house at 104 Vincent Street was purchased for the new rectory.
In December 1943, Trinity became a member of the United Churches of Broome County. At that time the church numbered 1,201 communicants, with 282 pupils, teachers and officers in the Church School.
In June 1944, Miss F. Mabel Hissey was named Director of Religious Education. That same month, vestry approved a recommendation from the Tanner Memorial Committee to beautify the chancel. The reredos was replaced with one of carved oak with a suitable brocade curtain—the reredos (back of the altar) we have now; it was dedicated in memory of the previous rector, the Rev. Wilson E. Tanner.
On January 16, 1945, a fire caused by sparks from electric lights on a dry Christmas tree destroyed the interior of the Parish House. Offers were received almost immediately from First Congregational, First Presbyterian and West Presbyterian making their facilities available for Trinity’s use. The Building and Grounds Committee, under the chairmanship of William H. Bloomer, Sr., started making plans for the rebuilding of the Parish House, at an estimated cost of $125,000.
Early in 1948, sealed bids were received for the new Parish House that totaled a startling $203,190. A study to review suggestions to reduce costs got underway immediately. Despite these efforts, costs continued to escalate with bids in September increasing to over $240,000. Construction on the Parish House finally began in March 1949. The Bishop was petitioned for permission to mortgage church property to obtain sufficient funds to finance the construction. A mortgage of $85,000 was authorized, with the balance to be raised by the Building Fund. The Parish House was completed by spring 1950.
In May 1953, the Rev. Percy Rex resigned as rector of Trinity Church to become dean of the cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio.

Changing Years, 1953-1976

The Rev. W. Paul Thompson became the seventh rector of Trinity Church in October, 1953. It was the beginning of a new era of growth and change for Trinity, both spiritual and physical.
In the spring of 1956 it was decided to engage a professional appraiser to survey the church property and the numerous costly needs that were becoming apparent. The roof was continuing to cause problems, the organ needed $30-40,000 worth of repairs, and the need for additional property for expansion was becoming apparent.
The years 1957 and 1958 became years of property acquisition. The homes at 120 and 122 Oak Street were purchased. The home directly adjacent to the church, 118 Oak Street, was owned by Miss Etta Mead. She agreed to exchange her property for the home at 122 Oak Street. In March 1959, plans for the new addition to the Parish House (to be called “Trinity House”) were completed and submitted to the general contractor for estimates. The parish fund drive, under the leadership of Senior Warden Edgar W. Couper raised $198,000 for the Parish House expansion.
In the spring of 1959 reports were received on the proposed new organ for the church. Casavant Frères, Ltd., a renowned Canadian organ builder, was selected to design and install a new organ at a cost of approximately $34,000. The organ was a gift from Conrad and Virginia Klee, longtime members and generous parish supporters.
In 1960 the new addition, Trinity House, was completed.
Mabel Hissey submitted her resignation as Director of Christian Education after 30 years of service; she planned to retire and return to her native England. Mabel may have visited her family in England, but she returned to the United States; she passed away in February 1987 and is laid to eternal rest in Riverview Cemetery, Harpursville.
The new organ was installed. M. Searle Wright, nationally acclaimed organist and son of the parish, played the dedicatory recital. Flora Staps submitted her resignation as Church Organist and Director of the Senior Choir, having served 42 years. Jack R. Hooton succeeded her in October 1960.
In 1962, two parish funds were established: Trinity Memorial Endowment Fund 1 and Fund 2. In 1965. Stewart and Willma Hoyt made a gift to the parish completely paying off the balance on the mortgage of Trinity House. At year’s end, the vestry was notified of a bequest from the estate of Conrad and Virginia Klee and the establishment of a memorial fund in their names.
In January 1970, Lois Meyer became the first woman to serve on the Vestry of Trinity Church. In the following fall, women also served on the Canvass Committee. In June 1970, Charles Bradley succeeded Jack Hooton as Organist-Choir Director.
In the mid 1970s, a major project of redecoration and renovation took place. The entire interior of the church was painted; the wainscoting and vaulted truss ceiling were refinished; pews and floors were sanded and stained. The undercroft was carpeted and stone walls were blasted clean and sealed.
In February 1976, the Rev. W. Paul Thompson retired after more than 22 years as Trinity’s rector. Deeply involved in the ecumenical movement, Mr. Thompson had developed meaningful and longlasting relationships with other parishes and religious groups in the area. He reached out to others to make Trinity one of the most respected churches in the community.

The Doersam Era, 1976-1994

In August 1976, the Rev. H. Arthur Doersam became eighth rector of Trinity Church. He had been archdeacon and canon to the ordinary in the diocese of Bethlehem, PA.
A number of firsts occurred in the late 1970s: Trinity’s first woman to be ordained to the priesthood was Janet Watrous (June 22, 1978). Patricia Bloomer was elected the first woman junior warden in 1978 and senior warden in 1980. Holly Eden, a seminarian, served an internship with the parish. She later became a curate at Trinity under a special program sponsored by the diocese and served until 1981. In early 1981, Steward E. Purdy was accepted as a candidate for the Canon 10 program for ordination.
In 1983, the stage area was refurbished with a gift from the Stewart and Willma Hoyt Foundation, creating our special and much used “Hoyt Room.”
In February1984, the parish accepted the resignations of William and Mary Heald as church treasurer and assistant treasurer after more than 30 years of service. Charles Bradley served as organist-choir director from 1970 to 1977. Carolyn Albaugh was organist-choir director from 1977-1981. In June 1981, Peter Browne began his tenure as Trinity’s organist-choir director.
The refurbished Children’s Chapel, a gift of Victor and Katherine Knop, was dedicated in 1985.
1986 saw the centennial celebrations of Trinity Memorial Church, culminating with a gala celebration with the bishop on May 4, 1986.
David Patterson’s history concludes at this point. Art Doersam served as Trinity’s rector until his retirement in January 1994. The remaining years of Art’s tenure need to be written.

The Rev. H. Arthur Doersam died on December 2, 2011 at the age of 83 after a short illness. A Celebration of his Life was held at Trinity Memorial Church on December 6, 2011. The Rt. Rev. Gladstone Bailey Adams, III, was the celebrant. The Rev. Christine J. Day, rector of All Saints' Church in Johnson City, gave the homily.
She has given permission for her homily to be reprinted here: Homily for Art Doersam.

Art was present at Trinity in October 2011 for the Welcoming and Celebration of New Ministry for the tenth rector of Trinity Memorial. He received Communion from the Rev. David A. Drebert.

Turn of the Century, 1995-2007

The Rev. Noreen P. Suriner, served as Trinity's ninth rector from April 1995 to April 2007.
Noreen expanded our outreach to families, both traditional and non-traditional. She worked closely with our curate, the Rev. Heath Civetta, in ministry to families with young children.
Noreen introduced a number of new ministries:

  • The HAVEN after-school program

  • The Canteen lunch program

  • "Start-Up, Start-Over" discussions

  • Introduction of some Taize worship and music

  • Using historical liturgies during Lent

  • A "Rector's Forum" at 11:15 a.m. as adult Christian education

  • Forming a class of EFM (Education for Ministry)

  • Initiating the Faithful Families program

  • Evening book study groups with the curate

  • Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for early childhood Christian formation

  • A weekly dinner for those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS

The Rev. Paul C. Donecker

The Rev. Canon Paul C. Donecker accepted  call in May 2007 to serve as interim rector at Trinity Memorial Church following the retirement of the Rev. Noreen Suriner in April 2007.
Paul, a graduate of Bucknell University and Virginia Theological Seminary, served for 18 years as rector of St.. Andrew’s Church in Lewisburg, PA.  He was Archdeacon in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania for eleven years.
The task of an interim rector is to guide the parish fromm the past to the future.  Included in his call were the charges to

  • Review history

  • Review identity

  • Review linkage to bishop and diocesan staff 

  • Review leadership

  • Explore new possibilities

Paul accomplished a great deal in his short time with us.  He regularly spent 50 to 60 hours each week at Trinity.
Among his accomplishments were

  • Establishing a regular monthly meeting of an executive committee comprised of the two wardens, the past senior warden and the treasurer to serve as a sounding board in preparation for the monthly Vestry meetings

  • Rejuvenating the commission and committee practices including regular meetings, the establishment of mission statements for each committee and regular recording of minutes. 

  • Guiding and supporting a successful capital campaign that met a goal of raising $725,000 to install a new roof, repair crumbling stone work, re-plaster and paint the interior of the nave, and refurbish electrical and heating systems.

  • Meeting with virtually every member or family of the church, often for meals. 

  • Initiating the youth reader program and meeting with each reader on Saturdays for understanding of the scripture lesson and proper delivery. 

  • Attending concerts or games involving young members of the church.

  • Saving the Canteen luncheon program after its founder retired from years of service.

  • Having a Mutual Ministry review with a small committee, including the wardens, with an outside priest in attendance.

  • Establishing the practice of Holy Eucharist at each 10:00 a.m. service on Sundays.

Paul Donecker served a vital role in Trinity’s history and will be remembered fondly by the parish.

Rector Number Ten

The Rev. Dr. David A. Drebert began his ministry as Rector Number Ten of Trinity Memorial Church on June 1, 2011.

His presence at Trinity Memorial and relationship with his Wardens were instrumental to leading to the self-discovery that he was transgender. Renamed Rebeca, she started to transition while at Trinity Memorial.  Rebeca resigned from the position of Rector in November 2015.

A new direction

In December 2015, the Rev. Glenn Mahaffey joined Trinity Memorial as Supply priest.

At the request of Wardens and Vestry, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe appointed Glenn as Part-time Priest-in-Charge effective January 1, 2017, initially for one year, to give Glenn and the parish the opportunity to discern their respective paths forward - including the possibility of going forward together, in which case mutual support and complementary ministries will need to be identified, balanced, and formally established.

A history of Trinity Memorial

Trinity Memorial Church has a history of many firsts, locally:

Founded open to all (no Pew Rent)

Women Clergy (1980, 1978)

Women Warden (1978)

Welcoming to all

Transgender Priest

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