CELEBRATING 170 YEARS — Members of the congregation at the Trinity United Church of Christ gather recently to mark the church’s 170th anniversary. Trinity United, at 215 W. Court St., was initially founded to tend to the spiritual needs of Rome’s rapidly expanding German and Swiss population. For generations, the church has prided itself on the social, cultural and educational work of its members. (Photo courtesy Rev. Frank Graichen)

‘Little German Church’ celebrates rich history, historic milestone

Published Nov 4, 2018 at 9:00am

Known by tradition as “The Little German Church,” the congregation of Trinity United Church of Christ recently celebrated its 170th anniversary.

It all started in a wood-frame building located at the corner of South James and Ridge streets. A dedication of the first church edifice was held on Oct. 25, 1849. The church was built on a lot that was donated to the congregation by the estate of Dominick Lynch, the founder of Rome.

But it was on March 28, 1848 that 22 men gathered in the session room of the first Religious Society of Rome in order to organize an Evangelical congregation, adopting a constitution and choosing the name, “United German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Rome.”

“The German and Swiss population was expanding rapidly here,” said the Rev. Frank Graichen, who is pastor at the church’s current location at 215 W. Court St. “They were coming here predominantly to be dairy farmers. The church, along with St. Mary’s (located behind us), came to serve the German-speaking population of Rome. Until the 1940s and early 1950s, the services were often spoken in German.”

The church founders requested that Pastor A. Wetzel, of Verona, serve the congregation, traveling from his home in the Village of Churchville on horse and buggy to Rome, which was about 12 miles away. On Dec. 30, 1847, the church would hold its first baptisms when Maria Margaretha Agne and Salomea Magdalena Schneider were christened. The first recorded wedding was between Henry Breitenbach and Eva Catherine Nissle on Feb. 18, 1849. The first funeral was that of John F. Hager, who died on Oct. 24, 1849.

By 1851, according to a history written about the church, the Rev. E. Leonard was the first resident pastor to serve the congregation. Forty years later, the congregation received full membership with the Evangelical Synod at a conference of the New York District in Rochester, and therefore a new constitution was adopted on Feb. 3 of that year.

Trinity Church underwent some renovations, and the enlarged church was dedicated on Aug. 13, 1893. The dedication of the pipe organ would come just more than six years later.

Fast-forward to 1925, and Trinity Evangelical Church purchased a site at 324 W. Embargo St. for a new church home. The Rev. Paul Gabler was pastor at the time. The dedication of the new church at 215 W. Court St., its current location, was held on April 15, 1928. In so doing, the church became a member of the Evangelical and Reformed Church as a result of a union between the Evangelical Synod of America and the Reformed Church of the United States.

The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of Protestant denominations: Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. Around 1959 the church joined the UCC and became Trinity United Church of Christ. In addition, the church school and the Zingerline Memorial Chapel at Trinity United was added to the existing structure.

Pastor Graichen and member of the church council, Kristine Dombeck, said for generations Trinity United has prided itself in the social, cultural and educational work it has conducted within its church family. Over the years, the Ladies Society, the Brotherhood, the Young People’s League, the Sunday school and the church choir have made contributions to church life and community. It has also become known for its philanthropic work for Rome.

Dombeck said the church has a program called the Mission of the Month. Each month the church congregation chooses a specific organization or cause that collected donations come to support. To date, the Mission of the Month for 2018 has contributed to: the Center for Family Life and Recovery, Church World Service, Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, Ride for Missing and Exploited Children, Rome Character Initiative, Alzheimer’s Research of Central New York, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation of Central New York, Mercy Flight, the Humane Society of Rome and Ronald McDonald House in Syracuse.

As part of MOM, the church takes collections in special envelopes and matches them so that the donations are doubled, Dombeck said.

Another charitable project undertaken by the church is its Blessings in a Backpack program.

“Each Thursday volunteers meet here with members of the First Presbyterian Church and we pack 100 bags of food that are then taken to Gansevoort Elementary School,” Dombeck said. “There have been about 100 students identified” for services, “and we give them a backpack full of food to take home so they can have nutritious meals during the weekend” when they’re not in school.

Trinity United also takes part in the Rome Area Hunger Walk, formerly known as the Crop Walk.

As for other community-minded endeavors, “We’ve had riders for the Ride for Missing and Exploited Children for the last 18 years,” Pastor Graichen said.

To continue into the next generation of prosperity, Graichen said Trinity United Church of Christ hopes to focus on progressive values and ministry, and to grow its successful mission work.

“We can’t be at the forefront of bringing needed services to our community without our support, so we choose to do that with our donations” and mission work, he said.

To commemorate the church’s 170th anniversary, it recently followed tradition and had the congregation gather outside the historic church for a “family” photo.