Parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral will launch the celebration of their bicentennial Sunday in much the same way they began in 1812: With reverent prayers uttered in the quiet space of South Carolina’s State House.
This time, there will be hundreds of worshippers and a glorious processional of Episcopalians who will follow a bagpiper across the modern State House grounds to the cathedral entrance. Flags will fly, including a needle-pointed bicentennial banner of burgundy and gold decorated by a cross, fleur de lys,and the bicentennial dates, 1812 and 2012.
That nod to 200 years of history is important but not all-consuming as parishioners of one of the city’s oldest and most prominent congregations open a yearlong celebration that will include special worship services, concerts, lectures and mission outreach, said Walter Edgar, who along with his wife, Nela, is serving as co-chair of the bicentennial committee.
“We are looking at the past, present and future but we are not dwelling on the past,” said Edgar, a retired USC history professor who wrote “South Carolina: A History.” Part of his charge as head of the bicentennial committee is to write a history of the church, which will be published in 2013.
By all accounts, 1812 was not a particularly serene or robust time to establish a new church.
The War of 1812 raged on land and sea, and Columbia, the new capital, was struggling to establish itself separate from Charleston even though it was as yet only a collection of dirt streets and wooden buildings. The original State House, where the founders gathered, was itself a simple wooden structure that would be destroyed by Union troops during the final year of the Civil War.
“It was sort of a community meeting house, but it just so happened that two of the founding members were speakers of the House,” Edgar said. So Trinity worshipped, probably in the House chamber, between 1812 and 1814 as they awaited completion of a new church at Gervais and Sumter Streets, cater-corner from the today’s sanctuary.
The 11 founding members — among them John Gabriel Guignard and his son, James Sanders Guignard — were committed to establishing an Anglican presence in the backcountry of South Carolina and in the new capital.
To pay for the first church, church leaders held a lottery — a practice common across South Carolina. But they never ventured into that arena again, Edgar said.
“The experience was so miserable because the woman who won the lottery sued the church,” he said. It turns out that the church attempted to deprive the second place winner of her prize because she had not submitted her ticket by the due date. But she took the church to court and won.
That turned out to be an embarrassing blip in the church’s early, struggling, history.
Today, descendants of the Guignards and two other founders remain active in a congregation that now boasts more than 3,700 members and a legacy of outreach in South Carolina and abroad.
“Trinity is like any other church; it is not indestructible,” said longtime member Crawford Clarkson, who at 92 also remembers vividly the celebration of the church’s sesquicentennial. “But it would take a (mighty) force to pull it down.”
The Canterbury Club and Troop 14
A cradle Presbyterian, Clarkson learned to know Trinity and some of its young members when he joined Boy Scout Troop 14. And when he married the daughter of an Episcopal priest in Georgetown, his denominational fate was sealed.
Sarah Clarkson, Crawford Clarkson’s wife, came to college and became active in Trinity’s Canterbury Club. She wishes such a college outreach was still active today.
“We did huge college work,” she recalled. “We even had a little mission in Olympia. Canterbury Club was a big deal. Sunday night, it was THE thing to do.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, the city’s political, business and civic leaders clustered at either Trinity or First Presbyterian Church, Crawford Clarkson said, a concentration of power that changed over the years as more Episcopal churches were established in the suburbs and other congregations gained membership.
Now, he said, “the young people in their 30s and 40s are definitely the leaders in the church.” It’s a trend the Clarksons applaud.
“Trinity is now coming back pretty strong,” he said.
Not that there haven’t been some very public dissension, most recently in 2010 when the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina intervened in a bitter dispute between Trinity’s vestry and then Dean Philip C. Linder. Linder was first suspended, then later forced to resign.
Such internal disagreements and discussions aren’t all that uncommon when that many people are gathered, said Clarkson, who remembered serving on the vestries of the 1970s and being at loggerheads with a former dean. “But never one where the bishop intervened,” he said.
Today, with a new dean in place and the completion of a $7 million restoration, the cathedral is poised for a new century, said Sally McKay, a liason to the diocese. “I think this whole bicentennial process has been a healing process.”
Surviving the burning of Columbia
It may seem that the gothic revival church that now anchors the block next door to the State House has been there forever, but that iconic salmon-colored structure with its intricate pinnacles topped with fleur de lys wasn’t built until 1847.
But certainly the church’s longest-serving rector, the Rev. Peter Shand, can be credited with fostering the congregation’s survival and the new church’s construction. He came in 1834 and served 52 years.
The gothic style was fashionable at the midpoint of the 19th century, but church members still hued to the English tradition of boxed pews — seating areas that were rented out until the turn of the 20th century, when the practice was discontinued. There was no center aisle for brides to traverse because they mostly married at home, Edgar said.
The church miraculously survived the burning of Columbia by Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, although the rectory did not. Before the flames destroyed the rector’s home, Union soldiers took the church’s communion silver, which had been hidden in a trunk with copies of Shand’s sermons.
The trunk was found outside of Columbia, with the sermons still intact but the silver gone, never to be recovered. Unfortunately, Shand’s sermons also disappeared as the years passed, Edgar said.
All those stories will be part and parcel of a year-long bicentennial celebration that opens with a 10-minute prayer service, using the 1789 prayer book, at the Capitol and the processional across to the doors of the church. The church’s new dean, the Very Rev. Timothy “Tim” Jones will bring up the rear of the processional as is customary.
All in all, there will be nine flags, three church banners, three crucifers and six torchbearers. The bicentennial banner, along with pew markers, are in needle-pointed, made by women in the church’s needlework guild. Member Mary Strasburger added the final two rows of needlepoint to the bicentennial banner, closing the loop on a tradition that began 50 years ago when she celebrated the congregation’s 150th anniversary.
Walter and Nela Edgar, herself a 5th generation Trinity member, will carry the bicentennial banners at the 9 and 11:15 a.m. services, while descendents of founders Emilie Guignard and Jim Sims, will carry the 1812 flag, with its 13 stars and stripes.
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, and Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, will carry the South Carolina flag, and former Columbia Mayor Patton Adams will bear the city’s flag.