The historic St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Episcopal church on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights is one of 15 churches nationwide — and the only one in the New York metro area — to be chosen for this year’s National Fund for Sacred Places awards.
The program, managed by Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is giving each of the congregations up to $250,000, as well as access to experts and consultants.
According to Allison King, grants and program manager at Partners for Sacred Places, the object of the grant is to “stabilize the tower.” She added that the church has applied three times for the program, and this is the first time it’s been chosen.
The church, originally the Church of the Holy Trinity, was built between 1844 and 1847. Originally, the tower held a steeple that, at 275 feet, was the highest, most visible landmark in Brooklyn, according to the church’s website. The steeple was removed during subway construction in 1906.
The church’s website adds that “The tower needs significant restoration. Scaffolding has stood in front of our church for decades, protecting pedestrians from the potential of falling stone and obscuring the welcome offered by a truly magnificent entrance. We are currently seeking funds to remove the scaffolding and simplify the protection with netting while we proceed with plans for exterior restoration.”
The Church of the Holy Trinity became the center of controversy in the late 1940s due to the political activities of Assistant Rector William Howard Melish, who was a founding member of the National Council for American-Soviet Friendship. The vestry urged Rector John Howard Melish (who had served since 1904) to dismiss his son, but the rector refused. The younger Melish became acting rector, but the case dragged through the court system, resulting in the church’s closing in 1957. It reopened in 1969, when it merged with another nearby Episcopal church, St. Ann’s.
In the past, much of the church’s restoration efforts focused on its 55 stained glass windows, which were made by William Jay Bolton between 1845 and 1848. According to the church’s website, they were the first figural stained glass windows designed and made in North America, rather than being imported from Europe.
Starting in 1980, a group known as St. Ann’s Center for Restoration and the Arts produced cultural programs to raise money for preservation of the windows and other historic features of the church, and eventually raised about $4 million. The group, now known as St. Ann’s Warehouse, moved out of the church around 2000.
“The 15 sacred places selected to join our Fund this year are more than beautiful houses of worship. They are irreplaceable civic assets that provide invaluable resources to their communities, sharing space for everything from COVID-19 vaccinations to nutritional food programs and child care programs,” said Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places.