Trinity Episcopal: Ready for another 100 years

Church celebrates rejuvenation

JEFFERS—Over the weekend, Trinity Episcopal Church celebrated a community effort to renovate and renew the historic church and to soak up the last of summer’s sunshine before autumn sets in.

On Saturday, September 8, the church hosted a fall festival that drew over 50 people: a celebration that included a bouncy house, crafts, fresh apple cider, scarecrow making and games, plus the main event, of course: the chili cookoff.

But the celebration has been at least six years in the making, says Judy Herrick. 

Herrick has been a member of Trinity’s congregation for nearly 30 years and is serving her third term on the church’s vestry—similar to a council or board of trustees. Back in 2012, Herrick was the vestry’s junior warden, a position in charge of the building and grounds of the church.

“We really just wanted to paint the church,” she remembers. “But we discovered the church is so old it had lead-based paint in it.” 

The church was first built in 1902, so the presence of lead paint wasn’t a huge shock.

But when they learned that, the bid to do all the work to repaint—stripping the old paint, power washing or scraping the walls, hauling the paint chips to an appropriate disposal site—was over $60,000 by itself.

So, the vestry decided, if just repainting was going to be such an undertaking, why not do all the necessary work at once, and be done with it?

“We realized we could side the church, insulate it so it would be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer,” Herrick says. “And then we’re done.”

But they next faced a new challenge: how was a congregation of 35 people—on a good day—going to raise the funds necessary for a project of that magnitude, which altogether would cost nearly half a million dollars? 

So, the Trinity Episcopal community began hosting events. There were wine tasting festivals, the annual spring garage sale and this summer’s farmers’ market, which ended up more successful than anyone had imagined. 

“We’re providing a venue for the community to come and sell their wares,” says project coordinator Melissa Smith, who was also instrumental in pulling the fall celebration together. “The church sells fresh vegetables grown right there in the Community Garden as well.” 

The farmers’ market began earlier this summer and takes place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and has been a bigger drawn than Smith ever anticipated. Vendors sell crafts, homemade snacks and fresh, super-local produce.

Those events, coupled with the generosity of the community, resulted in around $285,000 toward the church renovation project. 

“Everyone loves that sweet little church,” says Herrick. “People who don’t even live here have given money to make sure it stays there, because they love to see it.” 

By 2014, the project was ready to move forward. 

But before even the insulation and painting could begin, the 116-year-old church needed a new foundation to replace the rock and rubble one it was sitting on at the time. It had become so warped that the walls of the church were bending outward by around four inches.

To remedy this, the church was lifted up entirely and moved off its original foundation in order to put a new one in. Engineers inserted metal tie rods inside the church, which are still there today.

“This area gets earthquakes, and this church couldn’t withstand another earthquake,” says Herrick of the pre-renovation foundation. “They put the tie rods in so that when we moved the church, the walls wouldn’t come crashing down.”

The replacement of the foundation took the better part of a year, and by 2015 engineers were finally ready to put in a new lawn and sprinkler system. Then came replacement siding and insulation, and the removal of all that lead paint.

The total cost of the entire project ended up around $475,000, says Herrick. That was covered by the congregation’s contributions and all the successful fundraising events, plus a $30,000 bank loan and $50,000 from the Episcopal Diocese of Montana, plus some savings in the church’s own fund.

Saturday’s celebration was in honor of the community, with which this massive project, six years in the making, wouldn’t have even been possible, says Herrick.

“It’s our fall “thank you to the community” festival,” she says. “They’ve really supported us by coming to events that help us pay off this loan.”

Saturday’s chili cook-off featured six different varieties, from white chicken chili to gluten free options and classic versions, plus cornbread and all the necessary fixings. First prize and the commemorative “chili cook-off champion” apron went to David Harwell for his classic but extra-spicy concoction. Community members and parishioners spent one of the summer’s last hot and sunny Saturday afternoon’s celebrating the devotion of Trinity Episcopal’s supporters over the last 116 years.

And now, Trinity Episcopal Church is ready for its next century. With a church retrofitted for the 21st century and a brand-new priest in Jamie Leonard, who just joined the congregation on Sunday, September 2, it’s an exciting time for a devoted congregation. 

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