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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 9, 2011

Trinity Church celebrating 200 years of prayer and passion

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Looking back on more than two centuries of membership, the Rensselaerville Trinity Episcopal Church is nearing the end of its ongoing bicentennial celebration, marked by musical gatherings, and historically themed church services that replicated how things were done in the old days.

This past weekend, the church was recognized by the Rensselaerville Historic District Association as a significant contributor to the community, and congregants honored their church’s history by dressing the way their predecessors did in 1811, the year the church was founded.

“It was pretty neat,” said Father Jay North, who has been with the church for close to two years. “We used a prayer book from 1789, and we had a Bible that was given to the church in 1815 by Philip Van Rensselaer, and that was only recently rediscovered in the church, when we looked through a pile of old family Bibles this year.”

The entire celebration, which began back in February, had been planned by a group of committees since early 2010.

“On February 20, the actual date the church was incorporated on, we had a special even song festival, but we didn’t want to have too many celebrations in the dead of winter,” North went on. “So, in April, Bishop William Love came and had a procession through the village, and they played the drums, and we stopped at various historically important places, houses where services were held prior to the church being built, said some prayers, and marched up to the church.”

This was followed by a celebratory dinner at the carriage house at the Rensselaerville Institute.

“We built up to this weekend by having a historical service commemorating the sesquicentennial of 1961 by using the prayer books of that period, and then we did one from 1911, and then finally we ended up with the 1811 service, which was the most elaborate,” North said.

Of the church’s roughly 35 congregants, 13 donned the ancestral garb last weekend.

“We actually had to research this a lot,” said North. “This was a period between Colonial dress and Victorian dress. The Americans actually simplified fashion quite a bit, and they didn’t think outward other than Colonial wigs and knicker pants for the most part, and they basically wore long coats and vests, and the men wore top hats.”

These styles merged with those that came over from England and France, he went on.

“Napoleon style, or the Empire style, became very popular, and it had a very high waistline, and I guess they still sell what’s called an empire dress, with the waistline very high, and kind of long-flowing to the shoes,” said North. “So, people researched that, and some of the women at the parish made the dresses, and the men went down to the Costumer in Schenectady and got long coats.”

And North, rather than wearing the typical long white gown, a stole, and a chasuble, wore what is referred to as a “preaching gown,” which looks more like an academic gown seen on school officials at a modern-day college graduation, he said.

Also this weekend, tours of the church were given, with items from the church’s history on display. Then, there were the graveyard games.

“We asked them to go up into the graveyard and find who was the first person buried in the 1900s, and they would come back, and we’d give them a small prize,” North said. One of the prizes given out was an old, olivewood cross. North could not recall the name of the first person buried there, though he later added, “It was in 1801, and it was the village doctor, who died at age 31.”

The celebration will come to a close on June 19, with a joint service with the Rensselaerville Presbyterian Church.

Of the church’s longstanding history, North concluded, “I think they’ve had very good leadership, both from the clergy and laypeople. Both have been very devoted to the life of the church and preserving the church building, which was built in 1815. And it’s still in very good shape.”

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