Step into Trinity Presbyterian Church, and you can feel it’s 132-year history in its walls, floor, roof and stained glass windows.
On Sunday, Dec. 26, that history will come to a close when the church holds its last service at 10:30 a.m. The public is invited.
Trinity has been a part of Pastor Lauren Lambert-Goheen’s life for the last eight years. She began stepping into the pulpit off and on whenever someone was needed. In August 2019, David Park, the church’s clerk of session, asked her to consider coming in on a contract.
It took a lot of persuasion
At the time, he “indicated the congregation had decided to close. What they asked for was Sunday worship, pastoral care in crisis situations/as needed, hospital visitations, things like that,” said Lambert-Goheen, who works full time as the senior chaplain at Shawnee Correctional Center.
She signed the contract in October 2019 “with the understanding the focus was to walk with everyone through a difficult time,” she said.
“The decision to close has been ongoing for a long time,” said Rita Park.
“We just didn’t want to face reality,” Joan Holzer said. “This is the only church I’ve ever been. All my memories are here.”
Holzer has attended Trinity her entire life. Like many members, her commute to services when she was growing up was a short walk across the street. She was christened, baptized and married there. Her daughter was also. And her two grandchildren were christened and baptized there.
Park said when Lambert-Goheen was hired, “we were looking at (closing) every six months, six months, six months, six months. Then (Lambert-Goheen) said she wasn’t going to be here past December of this year, so that was pretty much it. That tipped it.”
Holzer said while “it’s hard to believe” the time to close is actually here, Park said “it needed to be done. It really was good timing.”
At 132 years old, Trinity is the county’s oldest continually used building for religious services.
According to the church’s history, Trinity Congregational Church was established as a mission of the Congregational Church of New England in 1889. After meeting in homes for a time, the present building was constructed and formally dedicated in March 1890. The ground on which the church stands was a gift from R.G.B. McKee. Park believes the bricks were made at a pottery that around that time was located on the corner of Seventh and Metropolis streets and took up that entire block.
In 1920, Trinity Congregational and the First Presbyterian churches merged, forming the Union Presbyterian Congregational Church. Trinity Presbyterian Church was formed in January 1962.
A letter from member Bertha “Berchie” Flanagan provides more insight into the church’s history. It says “the organ was a gift of Ann Cook McAlpin whose musical talent and teaching contributed much to the young people of the church. The pews were given by Mrs. Addie McCawley. The pews replaced the old theater type seats. Mrs. McCawley also gave the beautiful stained glass window at the front of the church in memory of charter members who founded the church.”
The church has held more than religious services.
“There are so many who say they used to have their Girl Scout or Boy Scout meetings here. It was kind of a community center,” Park said. “When the Methodist church burned down in 1971, they met here for a little while, so did the Presbyterian church.”
One of the features that stands out about the building is its 12 stained glass windows. Each tells a biblical story through its different pictures and symbols. The dedication panes were left empty when the windows were installed to allow names to be added. Located at the bottom of each window, the dedication panes “read like a who’s who of early Metropolis,” Park said.
For Lambert-Goheen, one of her favorite moments in ministry at Trinity was a 12-week series leading up to Advent on the windows. Each Sunday, she focused on one window — the symbol in it and to whom it was dedicated.
“My goal was ‘What does this symbol really mean that we’ve been looking at for all these years? Is there a scripture tied to that? Who are these people who are no longer physically a part of the congregation but are in spirit because they’re still there in our window reflecting hope and calling us forward,’ ” she said.
Lambert-Goheen almost thought she was going to focus on just 11 of the windows. Featuring a green pomegranate, “the last window is one that escaped most of us,” she said. Her research finally led her to “the idea of abundance and prosperity and what does that mean and how do we live that in a time when scarcity seems to rule.”
However, Lambert-Goheen said her favorite window is the large one. While “I love the ‘Lord is my Shepherd’ image, I look for that anchor at the top, ‘Our hope is anchored in Him.’ When I’m struggling in the pulpit or some things hit me a certain way, I look for that anchor,” she said. “But then, that pomegranate’s got my heart, too.”
For Holzer, her favorite is the one dedicated to Ballard and Bertha “Berchie” Flanagan, who “were like my grandma and grandpa.” However, she noted, “the most important thing with the church is what’s in it, not what it looks like.”
Park’s favorite is also the large one, “mainly because when you’re standing in the pulpit and the sunlight comes through there, there’s a gold light that comes into the church. It just covers everything. It’s just beautiful,” she said.
Like Holzer, Park got married at Trinity. In fact, most of her husband’s family was married there, including his parents, his sister, his uncles and his cousins.
Park lived in Sausalito, California, while David Park was in the Navy. He was on shore duty for a few months when they came to Metropolis “for a quick wedding” after they couldn’t find a church in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. They moved to Metropolis in 2009 when he retired and began attending Trinity in 2010.
A potter, Rita Park said her favorite memory at Trinity was a service with former pastor Dan Whitfield focusing on Jeremiah 13 with the theme “Go Down to the Potter’s House.” As he spoke, she threw clay and created vases for the church. She had also thrown small communion cups, which attendees got to keep.
“It was a fabulous experience,” she said. “That was a special memory, especially since the last time I was up there looking out at those windows was when I got married.”
Lambert-Goheen said while the window series is her favorite memory, the birthday her husband preached is “another moment. I knew he’d do a good job, but he blew me away.” But the recent Community Thanksgiving Service held Nov. 23, “as long as I know my name, that is going to stand in my memory — to be in ministry with my brothers in faith, to be a part of bringing ministry to our community is very humbling,” she said.
Trinity is the first congregation Lambert-Goheen has pastored.
“I told God a long time ago I was not a pastor, would never be a pastor, it was not something I found myself doing or felt I had a skill set for,” she said.
But her prior pulpit supply years at Trinity began shifting that mindset.
“If you know these people at all, they’re absolutely lovely, and I’ve considered them for years as extended family of faith for myself and my children. There hasn’t been a time I haven’t enjoyed being here, or my kids haven’t enjoyed being here. The only reason I even considered this was because I love you all,” she told Park and Holzer. “All I could think was, ‘They only need a pastor for a little bit of time. Could I really hurt them too badly?’ Being a pastor is a huge responsibility. I take it very seriously.”
That responsibility, she said, was impacted by the impending closure.
“I think it’s a very big responsibility to take on the leadership of pastoral care of people — and people who are facing the closing of a church. There are so many seasoned pastors who don’t want anything to do with that because of how difficult and heartbreaking that is. It’s painful. All I could think was, ‘Maybe I can give you care, and not harm,’ ” said Lambert-Goheen, who holds a master’s in marriage and family therapy, a master’s in religion and a doctorate in ministry.
And with that background, Park noted, “if anybody could hold our hand, she could. We’ve really been blessed with Lauren.”
Another blessing to Trinity members is pianist Linda Conn, who began attending in 2009.
“She’s been the glue. She’s that source of comfort. She has provided continuity (during) all of the changes in pastors, for all of the changes in membership,” Lambert-Goheen said. “I think what’s under valued frequently, but not in this congregational setting, is a ministry of music. When you have someone who’s gifted by God to bring not only instrumental but also vocal ministry. She comes in not knowing what the bulletin looks like and on that morning will thumb through (a stack of music a foot tall or more to make song selections for worship). She plays with all of the grace and accomplishment of who she is. She typically takes notes during the sermon, and she will either choose a song at that moment or, at times, even compose something that fits with what was brought in the spirit of pulpit ministry and it dovetails.”
Lambert-Goheen said the first few times she experienced it, “I thought this must be the work of the Spirit, how could anyone know? Then I realized, of course the Spirit is in this moment, but it’s also a seasoned person so in tune with what the mind and will of what God wants to happen in that worship setting that she’s capable of bringing that forward. That is just phenomenally rare. She has the heart of a servant, and the way she brings her ministry is through the gifts given to her.”
Park said Conn has received offers to go elsewhere, but “she told them she’s here until the end, for the duration, she would not leave us.”
“The neat thing that I’ve heard from everyone is that at Trinity, they’ve found the place where they felt accepted and could express their gifts. So, there is a deep sense of loss at not being able to continue that here,” Lambert-Goheen said.
Conn is one of the aspects of Trinity Lambert-Goheen plans to take with her. They are working out details for her to play on special occasions for the ministry at Shawnee Correction Center.
“There are so many moments that have originated within this congregation that I feel are going to continue outside of it and that’s one of them I’m excited about,” said Lambert-Goheen, who, since this experience, has been approached by other congregations interested in a limited Sunday-only pastor. “We’ll see if that is the fit we need.”
But over the next few days, pieces of the congregation are being returned to the original owners and a focus for Lambert-Goheen is shepherding her flock through the closure of Trinity.
“Part of the prayer for me is: what’s the best care for the people who are here; what do they need to move through this moment in time. Everyone has lived a lot of life and survived a lot of pain and heartbreak,” she said. “This is a significant heartbreak that’s unique only to a person who has deep faith — to come to the winter years, literally, and lose that place of worship.
“The prayer continues that the deep parts of faith who’ve been a part of this congregation will bring light and truth into the next space of worship they’re a part of,” she continued. “My understanding from people here is that everyone has other congregations they’ve visited. They have family who attend other congregations, and ultimately, they’ll make their decisions in those veins, according to what fits best for them.”
The presbytery will own the building when the church is closed.
“I’ve been in most of the churches here and none of them feels like this one. They really don’t,” Park said. Holzer agreed. Lambert-Goheen called it “sacred space. I feel like when you have the experience of a really important worship space, it leaves a mark on you, you feel like you’re in a space that has nurtured you in some way.
“It’s also been what you’ve made it,” she continued, speaking to Park and Holzer. “You all are a group who cares about each other and about the space and about the community. In some ways, it’s walls and a floor and some beautiful glass. In others, it’s a heartbeat. And you all have made it that.”
And whether that’s been a place for Scouts to meet or other congregations to worship, “we’re part of the community and the community is part of us,” Park said. “The community has been wonderful to us. We appreciate all the support we’ve received.”
And for Lambert-Goheen that brick-and-mortar is the final section of her prayer for Trinity.
“There has to be a purpose for this particular building — something that has made a difference in the community for this amount of time (to go forward). I don’t feel like there’s an answer to that quite yet, but the prayer continues,” she said. “Once a space has been sacred, there’s something important about that continuing in the lives of people. We’ll see what that looks like. I believe that God’s not done here — both with the people who are part of the community, the congregation, and the worship space itself.”