Trinity Presbyterian Church, located in the heart of Valparaiso, FL, has just embarked on the challenging journey of building a new sanctuary. Interestingly, the story of how our church arrived at this juncture is intimately intertwined with the history of the city government in Valparaiso.
The building that eventually became Trinity’s first sanctuary was built in the early 1950’s in the hub of “Old Valparaiso,” across the street from Perrine Park. This area was essentially the center of Valparaiso City life at that time—one could both shop and attend college classes along Westview Avenue. Accordingly, Valparaiso’s city leaders decided to build a facility just around the corner on Southview Avenue that housed all of the important city functions. This centralized facility contained the offices of the City Hall, the Fire Station, the Police Station, and for a while, the Post Office. After nearly forty years of operations at this location, a need for expansion moved these city services to their current locations in Valparaiso. In 1990, the old City Hall building was put on the market for sale.
Years earlier, Trinity Presbyterian Church was formed in 1984 when several families who met together for weekly Bible study began a regular worship service in a member’s home. With appreciation and love for the Reformed Christian faith, they recognized the need for a good pastor and extended a call to Pastor Mickey Schneider, who with his family moved from Jackson MS in the summer of 1986 to shepherd our burgeoning flock. His first pulpit at that time was only a shaky wooden podium in the choral room of Ruckel Jr. High School, where 14 families met for worship on Sundays. As our congregation began slow but steady growth, we moved to “larger facilities” – the school lunchroom – and later to an annex at Twin Cities Hospital. There we met and together experienced several years of great preaching, wonderful fellowship, and much learning under Pastor Schneider’s capable shepherding.
God continued to bless our congregation financially, and by 1990 we had enough savings to begin looking for a more permanent worship location. Shortly thereafter, we became aware that the old Valparaiso City Hall was now vacant and available for purchase. Soon, a price was agreed upon and a contract signed!
The purchase of the old Valparaiso City Hall building in 1991 came with a few interesting quirks. One of our founding members and long-serving elders, Erik Stoer, recalls that the Police Chief’s office and a detainee’s holding room were both still intact prior to church use. The congregation thought that if we could put some flashing blue lights on Pastor Schneider’s car, we might give a new meaning to the Bible’s ‘compel them to come in.’ Our remodeling plans included the installation of a new bathroom, but the plumbers had great difficulty jack hammering through the concrete slab in order to install sewage pipes…because it was unusually thick to accommodate the weight of fire trucks! Additionally, the building still contained the built-in room-size safe that the city used for storying valuable documents and other items, which Trinity decided to keep and use for its own purposes. In fact, that very safe remained up until 2022, and served as quite the unique talking piece.
As growth continued, two adjacent lots were purchased with the need for a larger facility in mind. In 2006, a new Administrative building was completed, providing room for offices, a library, and Sunday School rooms. A large Fellowship Hall with a modern kitchen was also constructed at this time. Regrettably, a real estate “bubble” with rapidly escalating prices precluded completion of an adjoining sanctuary until a later date. And so, Trinity continued to thankfully worship in its City Hall-turned-sanctuary, trusting that God would supply our facility needs according to His timing.
In 2011, Pastor Schneider announced his plans to retire and we began to search for the man who God would lead us to call to be our next pastor. After several mutually edifying visits, Trinity celebrated as Ben Rossell responded to our call, and he and his family moved from Maryland to the piney woods of north Florida, with ordination and installation in April 2013 as our new pastor.
With membership approaching 200, Trinity Presbyterian has now finally begun a 10-month project that will result in the building of our new sanctuary, designed to seat 350 worshipers. And so, the historic former Valparaiso City Hall, once housing the heart of the city’s operations, and then housing weekly worship services, was torn down on August 15th, 2022. To properly commemorate the next phase of history on this spot, we held a new sanctuary groundbreaking ceremony on August 22nd, 2022. The event was attended by the Valparaiso City Mayor and all members of the City Commission, as well as senior representatives from our building contractor, architect, and finance partner. Highlighting God’s continued faithfulness throughout the generations, both retired Pastor Schneider and our current Pastor Rossell led us in prayer during the ceremony.
As Trinity traverses this important crossroad for our church, we look back with amazement and gratitude for all the Lord has allowed us to accomplish, yet also look forward with joyous anticipation to what He has in store for us in the future. God used our previous sanctuary building for seven decades to serve the City of Valparaiso: first, for forty years to house the city government, and then thirty one years as a house of worship. It is our prayer that our new sanctuary, a “cathedral on the square” in the City of Valparaiso, will continue to bless our local community as we meet for weekly worship on Sundays. While we build our new sanctuary, services are held in the adjacent Fellowship Hall at 10:30 AM on Sunday mornings. Please come join us!
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