ABBEVILLE -- Trinity Episcopal Church’s 36-member congregation is working to repair and renovate the 156-year-old church.
“It’s not just a church effort, but it’s a community effort because the church is not ours -- it belongs to the community,” said the Rev. Todd Oswald, who has been the priest at Trinity for about a year.
Trinity, which was completed and consecrated in November 1860 -- just days before Abraham Lincoln was elected president and weeks before South Carolina voted to secede from the Union -- is the oldest church in Abbeville County, and maintaining its aging structure is a constant challenge. Oswald said, “There have been numerous efforts to restore the church.”
The last substantial effort to restore the building took place in 1976, said Dick Haldeman, Trinity’s clerk and parish administrator. The current project, he said, is expected to be far more comprehensive.
On Trinity’s grounds is a cemetery, built in 1852, that serves as the final resting place for soldiers killed in the Civil War, and set in the church’s walls are stained glass-windows created by William Gibson, who began the earliest known stained-glass business in America in the 1830s.
In 2014, the congregation enlisted Charleston-based Meadors Inc. to conduct an architectural assessment of the building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Oswald said the study found it would cost $2.3 million to fully restore Trinity -- a steep price for a small congregation.
Congregants are far from raising that sum, but started a repair project in November that includes making improvements to the church’s roof and exterior, as well as assessing the structure of the church’s bell tower to stop water damage that has affected the the structure, said Caroline McGee, Trinity’s treasurer.
“The restoration is the big job down the line to really put all the bells and whistles back together,” she said. “But until the water intrusion is stopped and the building is secure and sound, we have to do that first before going forward.”
The church has raised more than $200,000 for the repair project, McGee said, but the building is still being accessed so the cost of repairs is uncertain.
“We’re waiting to get those figures definite so we’ll know exactly what we need to do,” she said. “We have a ballpark figure for what they estimated, but some changes have come about since that was done.”
Restoring the building’s historic integrity is still important, Oswald said.
“As we move forward, there are less critical needs,” he said. “As far as restoring inside plaster, painting and helping Trinity look like she did in 1860, it involves a wish list more than a critical needs list. So that’s going to require some discernment among the mission committee and conversation with the architects.”
Trinity is only in the beginning phases of seeking contributions for the restoration, McGee said, and once the critical repairs are made, an effort to raise funds will go into full swing.
“We’re really in the beginning stages of that,” McGee said. “There will be a full fledged, and I’m sure a national, campaign when that is set up. Right now, we’re posturing ourselves to move into a capital campaign, but the most important thing right now is the repair phase of it.”
Haldeman, who has attended the church since 1961, said seeing the church restored would be as significant for him and the community.
“This is a symbol of the town, but it’s also a symbol of the living history of Abbeville,” he said. “This would mean we would finally succeeded in a longtime dream.”
Contact staff writer Conor Hughes at 864-943-2511 or on Twitter@IJConorHughes.