A brief history of Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church was first organized as a mission in 1894, a status it retained until it became a full-fledged parish in 1969. Its earliest services were held at Old Main hall at Miami University, an institution which has dominated Oxford life since its founding in 1809, and which had in earlier years brought with it a strong Presbyterian presence which had similarly exerted a strong presence on the town’s culture.  In 1899 what was then the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio helped the fledgling Oxford congregation purchase the local Temperance Hall, a charming Queen Anne-style structure which had previously housed Oxford’s Universalist church.

Holy Trinity’s current home, a combination of the traditional basilican style with Modernist influences, was built with a generous financial gift from the Very Reverend Henry Wise Hobson, Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, in 1950. This was part of a commitment that Bishop Hobson made in post-WW II years to student ministry at the three state colleges in the diocese: Ohio University, Miami University, and Ohio State University. Designed by Oxford architect David Maxfield and consecrated in 1952, the building has subsequently been remodeled and expanded a number of times to include its present-day bell tower and Community Wing as well as a new pipe organ in the Chancel.

Holy Trinity’s public profile was enhanced in this era not only by its new building but also by its emergence as a prophetic presence in the Oxford community. Neither Oxford nor Miami had been in the vanguard of social change, and racial segregation remained a reality in both town and university in the 1950s. Holy Trinity's most memorable clergyman was the Rev. Alvin Kershaw, who attained national fame as a successful contestant on the television quiz show, “The $64,000 Question,” on the subject of jazz. More significantly, Kershaw was an outspoken advocate of racial equality, and gained considerable attention when his announced intention to donate part of his TV winnings to the NAACP resulted in the cancellation of an invitation to speak at the University of Mississippi. The Holy Trinity which he led would similarly play a major role in supporting the Oxford chapter of the NAACP in its drive to end the segregation of public facilities and, in 1963, in its backing of the Freedom Summer training program staged on the campus of what was then the Western College for Women.

The 1950s also saw Holy Trinity as an advocate for social justice on a variety of fronts, in which Father Kershaw collaborated with long-time Senior Warden Paul Vail and other parishioners. Mary Stark, who headed the Social Action Committee, spearheaded the parish’s drive to provide health care for low-income women. This resulted in the founding of the Maternal Health Clinic of Butler County, the forerunner of Planned Parenthood in the region. (The Hamilton clinic is named after her.)  Several Holy Trinity members, including Barbara McKinstry and Jim Michael, provided leadership for Planned Parenthood in later years. In 1954 the parish also developed a pamphlet entitled “Death, Funerals and the Christian Faith,” which advocated burial with dignity and simplicity in opposition to the widespread commercialization of the industry that Jessica Mitford would later expose in her American Way of Death. Holy Trinity’s early espousal of Christian values in death and burial earned it a citation in Time magazine. The parish would later support opposition to the Vietnam War and play a major role in the establishment of a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Oxford.

Parish picnic at Peffer Park on a Sunday in June: great fellowship and food!

Parish picnic at Peffer Park on a Sunday in June: great fellowship and food!

As appropriate for a university community, Holy Trinity has always drawn much of its membership from the faculty, staff, student body, and local alumni of Miami University and, until its closing in the early 1970s, the Western College for Women. For some time its staff included a full-time campus minister; more recently, diocesan support has made possible an outreach to Miami students led by lay members of the parish. Its reputation as an advocate of progressive social stances and the high educational level of its membership have made it a visible alternative to the more conservative religious forces that are prevalent in the region.

In recent decades, Holy Trinity’s identity has been shaped by the interweaving of a variety of emphases. Our worship has followed the liturgies of Anglicanism but – in the Anglican tradition – we do not insist on any exclusive interpretation of the doctrines of Christianity. In fact, in the 1970s Holy Trinity hosted a non-denominational fellowship, Koinonia. Three of our rectors and many of our lay leaders have been women, and we continue to welcome as clergy and laity those sympathetic with our mission regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.

Our musical heritage has been rich, exemplified in the piano playing of Eleanore Vail; the organ performance of Frank Jordan; the choral direction of Bill Bausano, past president of the National Collegiate Choral Organization; and the liturgical compositions of Bob Benson, frequently incorporated into Holy Trinity’s worship. Our Outreach Commission raises funds for the alleviation of human need, both locally and nationally, and the Peace and Justice Commission works to raise awareness of injustice in our social system.

We also work to nurture a sense of community within the parish through festive meals such as our Champagne Easter Brunch and the feast following our well known Advent Service of Lessons and Carols, as well as sharing with other Oxford mainline churches in hosting once monthly a community dinner aimed at transcending lines of social class. The core of our collective life has always been sacramental worship enriched by our liturgical and musical heritage, but we have also taken as our mission the inclusion and transformation of the entire community through our pursuit of Christian social values.