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The History of Trinity Methodist Church

By Dr. William Eugene Pollen

     The official beginnings of the Methodist endeavor in Florida, and the Trinity Methodist Church, dates from the Conference held during the winter of 1821-1892. The Mississippi Conference had been formed in 1816 and in the course of supplying ministers to the lower Mississippi region, assigned in December 1821 Alexander Talley to “Pensacola, Mobile, Blakey, and adjoining country.” Two months later, in February, 1822, the South Carolina Conference officially added Florida work to that of the preacher in St. Marys, Georgia, by changing the name of the appointment to read, “St. Marys and Amelia Island,” and assigning  Elijah Sinclair to the new Georgia-Florida appointments. Thus Talley, working in the western extreme of West Florida under the auspices of the Mississippi Conference, and Sinclair, laboring on the coast of East Florida under the auspices of the South Carolina Conference. This was the beginning of the Methodist societies in the state of Florida. The Pensacola and the Amelia island became established points on the Circuit Rider’s journeys.

     Elijah Sinclair, was admitted of trial in trial into the South Carolina Conference in 1821. That year he was assigned to the Broad River district and to the “Sandy River” Circuit to work with Zaccheus Dowling. It was at the next Annual Conference that the was appointed as the sole preacher to the “St. Marys and Amelia Island” circuit. He was ordained deacon and received into full connection if 1823.

     The minutes show that he was under appointment until 1825 when he located. But was readmitted in 1827 and ordained an elder in 1828. From 1839 to 1841 he is listed as being superannuated, and in the year 1843 he withdrew from the ministry. Sinclair was appointed in 1836 as agent of the Georgia Female College in Macon, Ga, which was later named Wesleyan College. George G. Smith in the History of Methodist in Georgia and Florida, indicates that Sinclair was expelled from his connection because of bad financial investments.

     The second year after Elijah Sinclair’s appointment to the “St. Marys and the Amelia Island” circuit, he was replaced by Noah Lavey. At the conference during that year, twenty whites and ten blacks were reported as members of the church.

     Although there seem to be no official records prior to 1858, excerpts from a scrapbook of reminiscences, compiled by R.M. Tydings, give a comprehensive and interesting picture of the work that was undertaken in the Nassau Mission (formerly known as Amelia Island Mission) and the conditions under which work had to be done during the year of 1855. Tydings was appointed to the Nassau mission by Bishop Capens at the Florida Conference meeting in Madision. No missionary had been sent to the Nassau mission for the preceding four years because of fruitless work that had been done there. The mission was to be revived in 1855 because of a railroad that was to be built from Amelia Island through Nassau County to some point to the Gulf of Mexico.  Trinity United Methodist Church can trace its existence back to February 1822. When the “St. Marys and Amelia Island” circuit was established. Trinity is located at the corner of 8th and Ash Streets. The history is based on the memory and records of the oldest church member, during the time of this research. Blance Bee Ray Williams (1892–1991). In 1822, a missionary named Joseph C. Emerson came to Amelia Island from Kings Ferry, Georgia to do missionary work. According to Mrs. Williams records, he came in a row boat to establish the first known congregation as Methodist. In 1869, under the leadership of Rev. January Felder, the first church, a wooden frame building, was erected just west of the present church on 8th and Ash Streets. In 1891, the Rev. J.F. Elliot erected the present building. It is a two-story masonry building noteworthy for its lancet arched windows with belfry and square tower.  The beautiful etched stained glass windows were shipped from England, at a reported cost off $10,000. The original building has been altered by a single story masonry addition to the westside.

     Among the outstanding members were Florida representative Riley E. Robinson (1883-1885); Robert “Friday” Smith, Chief of Police; John H. Stays, a Judge; Lou Alsbury, the owner and operator of a local kindergarten; William “Billy” Rivers, the local contractor; and Professor William H. Peck, a Nassau County educator for more than 50 years. Peck High School was named for this educator and a local annual scholarship is given in his memory.

Mrs. Margurite Perpena Sheppard, Mrs. Florence Enice Benjamin Holzendorf, and Mrs. Celestine Shine are among the oldest living members.

     They said they can remember the days when there were three services each Sunday with a congregation filling even the balcony. An orchestra played for the worship service with the violin as the main instrument featured. Robert’s Brass Band often played at the church when there were special community programs. 

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