For 120 years, one Methodist congregation has cared for the people of the River Bend community of Des Moines. Through eras of being an upscale neighborhood to one struggling through the ravages of urban unrest to a multi-cultural part of the city, the people of the United Methodist Church now known by the name Trinity, have been a witness for peace and social justice and a haven for compassion, feeding both body and soul.
The origins of Trinity United Methodist Church go back to 1887 when the Prospect Park Methodist Episcopal Church was built on the corner of Washington and Eighth streets. “The development of Prospect Park progressed somewhat slower than anticipated. It appears that, by about 1900, the congregation of this church had decided to broaden its horizons for membership. In that year, the name of the parish was changed to North Des Moines Methodist Episcopal Church.”
In 1910 the renowned Des Moines architectural firm Proudfoot, Bird and Rawson, designers of such landmarks as the Equitable Building, Memorial Union on the Iowa State campus, field house on the University of Iowa campus, Abraham Lincoln High School, Register-Tribune Newspaper building, Masonic Temple, and Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, was commissioned to create the new Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. “Trinity Church is significant…because it calls attention to late 19th and early 20th Century Revival styling.”
Stained glass rose-shaped windows are on the north and south walls of the sanctuary, which has a balcony that wraps around three sides of the sacred space. There is a stained glass dome over the central portion of the sanctuary. The original oak pews remain. The plaster walls were “originally embellished with stenciled bands of decorative painting [but sadly] these features have been subsequently painted over.”
A pipe organ was installed in the church at the time of construction, 1911. “This is a small instrument, built along a standardized design by John Hinners of Pekin, Illinois.” A 17-rank tracker originally had “a hand pumped bellows (that) supplied the wind for the pipes.” Though now an electronic motor provides the wind, “the hand pump remains.”
The second floor “contains a balcony within the sanctuary and Sunday School rooms in the west wing” and the basement has a kitchen and serving room, large dining room, and several other rooms, including the church office and Pastor’s office.
All of this magnificent architecture and wonderful pipe organ provide tradition-rich worship, education, and community space for the Sunday morning service, study and prayer group, and after church discussion forum.
From the beginning it’s clear that the people who began the faith community that is now Trinity United Methodist Church had a strong commitment to the people in the neighborhood. Once expressed by a name change from a narrowly local identification to a wider area of the City of Des Moines, to its current name, the people of “Trinity United Methodist Church are a Christ-centered, inclusive worshipping community whose love of God, creation, and humankind is made visible through our peace and justice ministries.”
In 1968, at the suggestion of leaders of local Black Panthers, a Breakfast Club began, with the support of the Inner City Cooperative Parish. One of the three United Methodist congregations of the Cooperative Parish, Trinity agreed to host the children for breakfast. In response to community need the Supper Club was begun in 1987, in collaboration with Our City Kitchen, a publicly and privately funded community meal program. Today both meals are programs of Children and Family Urban Ministries, which is located in the Trinity Church building.
The commitment to the mission of the church is also expressed through a prison van ministry that provides low-cost rides, on a monthly basis, for family members to visit loved ones imprisoned in Iowa. English as a Second Language classes are offered twice weekly. Justice for Our Neighbors provides free legal services. “In 1992 Trinity became the first Iowa (United) Methodist church to become a ‘Reconciling Congregation,’ an action which” welcomes full participation of all people regardless of sexual orientation. A health fair each summer makes possible physical and dental exams and gifts back-to-school packs to many many children in the community.
The people of Las Americas Comunidad de Fe, an Hispanic United Methodist community of faith, worship and study at Trinity. Las Americas and Trinity share a weekly bilingual worship service and after church community meal.
In addition to the Trinity and Las Americas congregations, Children and Family Urban Ministries conducts a wide range of programs in the Trinity Church building, including the previously mentioned morning and evening meals.
As its mission states, the people of “Trinity United Methodist Church are a Christ centered, inclusive worshipping community whose love of God, creation, and humankind is made visible through our peace and justice ministries.” Despite the fact that “Mainline congregations, including Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist (that) were founded in the neighborhood…closed their doors as the neighborhood changed…Trinity United Methodist has stayed.” As one former parishioner said, “Trinity continues to go out of its way to be a beacon and a refuge (bringing)…hope to those without hope, joy to the sorrowful (and) relief to the marginalized of society.”