When Fernandina was recognized as a Township in 1807, Fernandina was not the quaint historic City of Fernandina Beach as we know it today. Life was hard and slavery was the way of life in the south. The official beginnings of the Methodist endeavor in Florida, and the Trinity Methodist Church, dates from the Conference held during the winter of 1821-1822. Elijah Sinclair was assigned to the new Georgia-Florida appointments and labored on the coast of East Florida under the auspices of the South Carolina Conference. This was the beginning of the Methodist presence in the North East Florida. Amelia island, St. George and St. Mary’s became established points on the circuit rider’s journeys. They gathered to preach in the people’s homes near Trinity’s present location.
Trinity has been an integrated church since 1822. In March 1861, the Civil War began between the states over states rights and the continuation of slavery. During the conflict, many landowners retreated from their holdings and resided inland. A year later, in March 1862, the Rev. Mr. DeForest was officiating at the Methodist Church. In 1868/1869, following the end of the Civil War, a small white clapboard church was built on what is now the Trinity parking lot. During that time, Trinity was the oldest Methodist church serving the African-American community. The members of Trinity became integral parts of Nassau County community. One member was a postmaster to Kings Ferry, while several other members were teachers, pharmacist, two were drayman, boarding house owner, and one was a restauranteur.
On June 5, 1869, the State of Florida, Nassau County, recorded a land quit claim by a landowner and minister Joseph C. Emerson and his wife Celia Emerson for $100, who sold the land, lot 5, block 42, (on which this sanctuary is constructed), to 7 member trustees of what was then known as the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. The deed read in part: “To hold in trust, that said premises be held, used, maintained and disposed of as a place of Divine Worship for the use of its ministry and membership….”. “The said title is conveyed free of any liens or encumbrances .. had been bought at a US tax sale of land unredeemed…. and deeded to Joseph C. Emerson, together with his wife Celia Emerson release all claims this 28th day of May 1869.” The current brick sanctuary was built in 1891 with many members volunteered their services in the building of the sanctuary.
A reporter in the area from a semiweekly newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts, called the Advertiser wrote about Trinity Church: “Sunday services were held at the Methodist church. The congregation averages about 250 and are attended by a few white people. The colored people are constant and devout worshipers. The women come to church arrayed in turbans in which all the colors of the rainbow are represented and mingled.” “Their singing is the congregational manner: the hymn is read two lines at the time by the minister. The effect is grand.” That same year, the Reverend January Felder, who appeared as witness to the signing of the original hand-written deed, began to lead the Trinity church in a wood frame building near this present location.
Nearly 69 years after establishment of the church, in 1822 the Rev. J. Elliott directed the construction of the present red brick building in 1891 funded by freemen and women, working people. It was completed around 1892. Trinity was constructed with several noticeable features. The pews are constructed and placed so they are curved. This was very unusual for a church built in the 1890’s. The stained glass windows decorating the sanctuary are from several glass works located in Philadelphia. A floral motif can be found throughout the sanctuary. There are floral medallions on the ends of each pew, and the fleur de lis can be found at the top of the windows as well as on the back of the pulpit chairs.
The church continued to grow from 1900 to the middle 1960’s. The single story parlor and bathrooms were added to the sanctuary before 1950 by the husband of Sister Eartha Holzendorf. Sister Eartha recalls huddling around the pot bellied stove as a child during Sunday School. There were as many as three services with live music, featuring piano, a violin and a large choir. During the early 1970’s, attendance began to dwindle down to one very small service. In 1997 under the leadership Susan Little and with the assistance of a grant from the State of Florida, plus much needed help from Memorial Methodist Church, community leaders, and Friends of Trinity, a large restoration project to restore the stained glass windows and parts of the interior was proposed and completed in 2000.
Services have continued through to the present time. During the hurricanes of 2017, Trinity received roof damage, leading to damage from water leaks throughout the sanctuary. With the arrival of Pastor Granardo Felix in 2018, membership began to grow. A building campaign fund was begun. A final insurance award $75,000 was given to Trinity. Our small membership was able to raise a matching amount for roof repair and restoration of the interior and the restoration was completed.
Through the years, God has blessed this church in so many ways. We continue to trust in the Lord and to seek to make disciples of all people.
Today, we have a small, more diverse congregation with the common goal of deepening our relationship with Christ and sharing his love with others.