learn more about the history of one of Savannah's most historical churches
Nestled in the corner of West President and Barnard Streets is the grand Trinity Methodist Church, also known as the Mother Church of Savannah Methodism.
The city of Savannah, Georgia is significant within the Methodist community due to its close ties to John Wesley, from whom the denomination derived. Trinity Church stands out as an inclusive sanctuary, embracing modern-day social changes while still preserving tradition.
The first Methodist congregation in Savannah consisted of 65 members who attended Wesley Chapel for worship. Wesley Chapel was established in 1812, on the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Lincoln Street.
By the early 1840s, the congregation quadrupled in size, forcing its members to seek a place to build a new sanctuary. In 1847, the ideal location was found; a large garden adjacent to the Telfair Family home.
The lot was purchased that same year for $8,500.00 and planning for the new Methodist church began. The building foundations were laid on February 14, 1848. Two years later, the church, along with a small educational building opened its doors.
The erection of the Trinity Methodist Church cost $20,000.00, a staggering amount at the time. Several years later, Wesley Chapel closed and the two churches merged.
Trinity Church is famously known for remaining open from 1861 to 1865, during the American Civil War, refusing to close its doors even as Union soldiers camped across the street in Telfair Square. They were committed to their congregation.
A century after its construction, the church had suffered somewhat of a decline. The interior was in desperate need of restoration while time and weather had taken a toll on the exterior. This led to several restoration efforts during the 1960s that brought back the old charm of the sanctuary.
The church stood tall and beautifully preserved until October 7th, 1991 when a fire rendered it unusable due to extensive water damage. While the building was out of commission, services were held at Sipple’s Mortuary and Crematory, located in the nearby Abercorn Street.
Repairs were extensive - taking almost two years and costing an estimated 2 million dollars. In 1993, Trinity Methodist Church was reopened although it was still in need of additional renovations. In 2005, several fundraisers and charitable donations took place, funding restoration projects that returned the building to its former glory. That same year, the Trinity Methodist was granted a preservation award by the Historic Savannah Foundation.
Today, Trinity Methodist Church stands beautifully preserved and untouched. Its appeal not only stems from its antique façade but also the principles therein contained. Trinity Church is a thriving congregation that promotes inclusivity and welcomes diversity, art, and self-expression.
Methodism is a movement within Protestantism that derives its principles from the life and teachings of John Wesley. The movement arose within the Anglican Church yet it did not become a separate denomination until Wesley’s death in 1791.
After the founding of the Georgia colony in 1732, General James Oglethorpe assigned John Wesley as a minister in the colony. Wesley, who was a respected religious leader in England, journeyed to Savannah to fulfill his new duties.
Wesley embarked from Gravesend, England to the Americas. During the voyage, however, a powerful storm hit and lightning broke their ship’s mast. Wesley immediately noticed that while the English were scrambling to repair the ship, the Moravians - members of a religious movement that originated in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) - remained calm, praying and singing hymns.
That occurrence proved to be a major turning point in Wesley’s life as he realized he was missing a deep connection with God. From that moment forward, John Wesley was motivated in seeking that profoundly spiritual way of life, a goal that influenced his preachings.
Methodism rejects the Calvinist principle that man is predestined for either salvation or damnation, believing salvation is attainable by all through faith. The Methodist movement also believes in practicing what John Wesley referred to as “practical divinity” through social and personal acts of kindness.
Wesley’s life in Savannah did not go as he intended. Following a series of legal and romantic controversies, he was forced to return to England, passing on his role to George Whitefield in 1738. Thankfully, Whitefield admired Wesley and continued to preach his doctrine.
George Whitefield became an incredibly successful minister in the United States. He traveled extensively, preaching and disseminating Methodism across the country; making him an important figure in the Methodist movement.
In 2018, Trinity Methodist Church was selected to become an official member of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) in an effort to further highlight their inclusivity practices. RMN seeks to assist Methodist churches in the battle against injustice and discrimination, promoting equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Savannah Stopover Music Festival is held annually in different venues, bringing musicians from all over the country to Savannah’s Historic District. Trinity Methodist Church opens its doors every year as one of the festival’s venues, where everyone can enjoy jazz, folk, and other genres in a beautiful historic setting.
The Trinity Church building, designed by architect John B. Hogg, is considered an excellent example of Corinthian Architecture.
The acclaimed Corinthian style is a form of Ancient Greek Architecture - first described in Marcus Vitruvius’ manuscript “De architectura” (30 B.C.) - that focuses on ornate columns. Columns of this style are usually plastered before being carved in the shape of leaves.
John B. Hogg designed the church with two large Corinthian columns, a recessed front entrance, and a large central pediment. The exterior walls are stucco over Savannah grey brick. The bricks were handmade by enslaved African-Americans living in the Hermitage Plantation while the estate operated a brick factory.
The interior of the church was inspired by Wesley’s Chapel in London. It features stark white walls with delicate trims and moldings, multiple pedestal columns, and vibrant red carpeting. Behind the altar we find the colossal Möller pipe organ installed in 1949.
The past and present come together in this magnificent sanctuary. Visit Trinity Methodist Church for an inclusive religious experience: “Male, female, black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, God welcomes all here!”
(Sunday Service at 11:00 a.m.)
225 W. President Street
Savannah, GA 31401